Convicts 'target victims from jail'
Convicted murderers, paedophiles and stalkers are terrorising their victims from behind bars by exploiting loopholes in the legal system, research has revealed.
Campaigners are calling for changes in the courts process and tougher harassment laws after a dossier of 33 cases showed offenders are using the system to interfere with victims.
Vexatious child access claims are being made by rapists and abusers who have previously shown no interest in their offspring, research shows.
As innocent families are forced to fork out for lawyer fees, convicts are getting legal aid to drag the "pointless" cases through the family courts.
Stalking crime is "not fully understood" by criminal justice professionals and there is "urgent need for law reform, revision of sentencing guidelines and proper mandatory training for relevant staff" including family court judges, the report says.
Harry Fletcher, assistant general secretary of family courts union Napo, said the research highlighted the need to stop future abuses of the court processes.
He said: "It is outrageous that in the past perpetrators of child abuse, murder and rape were given legal aid to continue to torment their victims through the family courts. This appears to have been going on for many years and has caused untold stress to victims and families. It is crucial that these vexatious applications be struck out."
Among suggested solutions - which would be made as part of amendments to the Protection of Freedoms Bill - was for judges to remove criminals' parental rights during sentencing.
Psychologist Laura Richards, of Protection Against Stalking, said the courts were allowing perpetrators to continue their abuse. She added: "It is unacceptable for perpetrators of domestic abuse and stalking to be allowed to use the courts to continue their abusive behaviours."
Cases included in the dossier published by Napo and PAS include a paedophile applying for contact with his children - despite having previously taken indecent pictures of them. Several cases of convicts who had killed their partners were also highlighted for applying "even though the children were terrified and fully aware of the murders".