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Coercive behaviour must be prioritised in domestic abuse cases, court of appeal says | Global development

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The family courts should prioritise the issue of coercive and controlling behaviour when considering disputes between parents in domestic abuse cases, court of appeal judges have advised.

Three senior judges set out fresh guidance on how these sensitive cases should be approached as part of a 47-page judgment after hearing four linked appeals brought by mothers over child contact.

Three of the four appeals, each involving allegations of coercive control and partner rape, were granted.

The ruling by Sir Andrew McFarlane, Lady Justice King and Lord Justice Holroyde states courts should “prioritise consideration of whether a pattern of coercive and/or controlling behaviour is established over and above the determination of any specific factual allegations”.

It highlighted that abuse does not always end when a relationship does and that, even with an injunction in place, subtle forms of abuse can persist.

The judges said regarding coercive incidents that occurred between adults when they were in a close relationship as being “in the past”, and therefore without relevance when assessing risk of harm in future, should be considered “old fashioned and no longer acceptable”.

Charlotte Proudman, a barrister who represented two of the mothers, welcomed the guidance but said there were some gaps.

“It was disappointing that judges shied away from clarifying how the family court should deal with rape cases, including the prevalence of rape stereotypes and myths.

“We are told the criminal definition of rape should not be used in the family courts but I’m left really unclear on what definition should be used instead. I’ve seen judges use terms such as ‘partial rape’ or ‘unwelcome sexual intercourse’ but what do these descriptions mean?”

The family courts received 55,253 private law applications in the last year from parents seeking resolution of child contact disputes.

Domestic abuse allegations are present in at least 40% of these, about 22,000 a year.

Despite the high caseload, the need to identify and determine issues of domestic abuse is “rightly afforded a high level of importance” said the ruling.

A family court judge who fails to consider coercive control where it is relevant may be held on appeal to have “fallen into error”, the judgment stated.

Victims’ groups refuted the assertion that a “modern approach” to domestic abuse is already embedded in training and understood by most family court judges.

Concerns around the perpetuation of “rape myths” and a “pro-contact culture”, as described in the Ministry of Justice harm report, were raised by charities making representations to the January hearing.

Lucy Hadley of Women’s Aid Federation of England said: “We hear daily from survivors who tell us abusers use the family courts and child contact arrangements as weapons to continue control after they’ve escaped. We welcome the conclusion family judges must do more to investigate patterns of coercive and controlling behaviour and examine what harm this has upon a child.

“But we are severely disappointed the court of appeal did not call for an end to the ‘contact at all costs’ approach, which is putting women and children experiencing domestic abuse in danger. We fear this judgment has not recognised the urgent need for wholesale reform to make the family courts safe for survivors.”

Katie Russell, of Rape Crisis England & Wales, said she was disappointed that the ruling “declined to tackle the significant problems of victim-blaming, rape myths, lack of understanding of the law on sexual consent from family court judges, and the overall minimisation and dismissal of sexual violence and abuse in the family courts”.

The three cases successfully appealed will now be heard in front of a different judge.

They included the case of a mother who challenged an order about child contact by Judge Richard Scarratt who threatened to take her child into care.

The judgment stated: “It is hard to imagine a more serious and frightening prospect for any mother, let alone a young, single mother, than that of having her child taken off her and placed for adoption.”

The judges said the family courts are in a “continuing process aimed at developing and improving”.

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Protests flare across Poland after death of young mother denied an abortion | Abortion

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Protests are under way across Poland after the death of a 37-year-old woman this week who was refused an abortion, a year since the country introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

On the streets of Warsaw on Tuesday night, protesters laid wreaths and lanterns in memory of Agnieszka T, who died earlier that day. She was pregnant with twins when one of the foetus’ heartbeat stopped and doctors refused to carry out an abortion. In a statement, her family accused the government of having “blood on its hands”. Further protests are planned in Częstochowa, the city in southern Poland where the mother-of-three was from.

“We continue to protest so that no one else will die,” Marta Lempart, organiser of the protests, told Polish media. “The Polish abortion ban kills. Another person has died because the necessary medical procedure was not carried out on time.” All-Poland Women’s Strike has called on people across the country to picket the offices of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) and organise road blockades in the coming days.

Agnieszka was first admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa with abdominal pain on 21 December. She is said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she arrived and was in “a good physical and mental shape”, according to her family, who said her condition then deteriorated.

On 21 December the heartbeat of one of the twins stopped and, according to Agnieszka’s family, the doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation. They waited several days until the second foetus also died. A further two days passed before the pregnancy was terminated on 31 December, according to the family.

A priest was then summoned by hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, the family said.

The family say that the doctors refused to terminate the pregnancy earlier, citing Poland’s abortion legislation. “Her husband begged the doctors to save his wife, even at the cost of the pregnancy,” Agnieszka’s twin sister, Wioletta Paciepnik, said on Tuesday.

After the termination, Agnieszka was moved from the gynaecological ward and her health continued to deteriorate. Her family suspect that she died of sepsis but the cause of death was not identified in a statement released by the hospital.

Shortly after her death, a statement by her family accusing the hospital of neglect was published on Facebook, alongside a distressing video of Agnieszka’s last days.

Agnieszka’s death marks the first anniversary of the 2021 ruling that declared abortion due to foetal abnormalities illegal. Abortion can now only be carried out in cases of rape, incest or if the mother’s life and health are in danger.

Her death comes after that of a woman known as Izabela last September, who died after being denied medical intervention when her waters broke in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her family claim the 30-year-old was refused an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found that “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined. Soon after, an anonymous man from Świdnica in south-west Poland came forward to share that his wife, Ania, died in similar circumstances in June last year.

While “selective abortion” is possible in the case of a twin pregnancy, it is unclear whether aborting an unviable foetus to save its healthy twin is permitted by the new abortion legislation. The Polish court has not referenced the questions raised by this situation, presented by opposition senators last year, in the new legislation.

“We want to honour the memory of my beloved sister and save other women in Poland from a similar fate,” Paciepnik said in a video appeal. The case is now being investigated by the regional prosecutors in Katowice, who also investigated the case of Izabela.

The family are represented by Kamila Ferenc, from the Federation for Women and Family Planning, who confirmed that an autopsy of Agnieszka’s body has been ordered by the court.

According to a statement from the hospital, Agnieszka tested positive for Covid before her death, although she tested negative twice when first admitted. “We stress that the hospital staff did all the necessary actions to save the patient,” the statement read. The hospital did not respond to the Guardian for a request for comment.

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Italy welcoming back EU tourists from February

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Italy will remove all Covid-linked restrictions on international visitors from the EU from 1 February, except the requirement to carry a “Green Pass” – a certificate of vaccination, negative test result, or immunity through having had the virus. Roberto Speranza, the health minister, also gave Italians the go-ahead to travel once again to Cuba, Singapore, Turkey, Thailand (the island of Phuket), Oman, and French Polynesia, Reuters reports.

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Polish state has ‘blood on its hands’ after death of woman refused an abortion | Abortion

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The family of a Polish woman who died on Tuesday after doctors refused to perform an abortion when the foetus’s heart stopped beating have accused the government of having “blood on their hands”.

The woman, identified only as Agnieszka T, was said to have been in the first trimester of a twin pregnancy when she was admitted to the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital in Częstochowa on 21 December. Her death comes a year after Poland introduced one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

According to a statement released by relatives, the 37-year-old was experiencing pain when she arrived at the hospital but was “fully conscious and in good physical shape”.

The first foetus died in the womb on 23 December, but doctors refused to remove it, quoting the current abortion legislation, and Agnieszka’s family claim “her state quickly deteriorated”. The hospital waited until the heartbeat of the second twin also stopped a week later, and then waited a further two days before terminating the pregnancy on 31 December.

Agnieszka died on 25 January after weeks of deteriorating health. Her family suspect that she died as a result of septic shock, but the hospital did not identify the cause of her death in statement issued on Wednesday.

“This is proof of the fact that the current government has blood on their hands,” the woman’s family said in a statement on Facebook. The family also uploaded distressing footage of Agnieszka in poor health shortly before she died.

After the termination of the pregnancy a priest was summoned by the hospital staff to perform a funeral for the twins, Agnieszka’s family said.

Her death follows that of a woman known as Izabela last September, who died after being denied medical intervention when her waters broke in the 22nd week of her pregnancy. Her family claim the 30-year-old was denied an abortion or caesarean section and that the hospital cited the country’s abortion laws. An investigation found “medical malpractice” led to Izabela’s death and the hospital was fined.

Agnieszka’s family claim that contact with the hospital was very poor and that the hospital refused to share the results of Agnieszka’s medical tests citing confidentiality guidelines. They say the doctors “insinuated” that Agnieszka’s rapidly deteriorating state could be caused by BSE, commonly known as “mad cow disease”, or Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease (CJD) and suggested she ate raw meat. The hospital did not reference this claim in their statement.

According to the statement from the hospital, Agnieszka tested positive for Covid before her death, although she tested negative twice when first admitted. “We stress that the hospital staff did all the necessary actions to save the patient,” the statement read. It is not clear whether an autopsy has been ordered.

Agnieszka is survived by her husband and three children.

The Guardian has contacted the Blessed Virgin Mary hospital for comment.

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