Since the well-publicised cuts to legal aid in family law, there has been a significant increase in the number of people representing themselves in family court proceedings. One impact of this is that victims of domestic violence are able to be directly cross-examined by their alleged abusers in court.
This widely criticised practice would have been halted under the last parliament’s Prisons and Courts Bill; however as a result of the recent general election result, the Bill’s survival is now uncertain.
Section 47 of the Prisons and Courts Bill would have assisted by:
- Providing for a ban on cross-examination in person where the alleged abuser has been charged or convicted of a specified offence; and
- Giving the Family Court the power to prevent cross-examination in person where the alleged abuser had not been charged or convicted but where the court finds that the witness’s evidence would be diminished or that witness would endure ‘significant distress’.
The proposed change had been strongly backed by the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, along with a host of other legal professionals including Resolution, the leading organisation for family lawyers in England and Wales which promotes a fair and conciliatory approach to dealing with family breakdown. Sir Munby has repeatedly called for reform since 2014.
More recently, another leading family law judge, Mr Justice Hayden, has also condemned the practice, vowing not to hear further cases which would involve such practices and suggesting that it is not ‘consistent’ with his ‘judicial oath’ and his ‘responsibility to ensure fairness between the parties’. In the case of Re A (a minor) Justice Hayden presided over the father’s cross-examination of the mother via video-link before describing the practice as ‘abusive’ in itself and a ‘stain on the reputation of the family justice system’.
It is hoped that in the wake of the election result, this aspect of the Bill can be revived and passed into law so as to ensure that being a witness in Family Court proceedings cannot ever mean being subject to direct cross-examination from an alleged abuser.
If you require any advice or assistance with a family issue our dedicated team of lawyers at Slater Heelis are here to help.
Our team are focused entirely on achieving the best outcome for our clients and our experience and level of commitment is second-to-none. Several of our family solicitors are ranked as leading individuals and recommended lawyers in the authoritative UK legal directories (Legal 500 and Chambers) and all of our family solicitors adhere to the Resolution Code of Practice, which means that they will work with you to resolve your case in a constructive and non-confrontational way.
To get in touch, just call 0161 969 3131 or email a member of the team.