‘Courts to ban cross-examination of victims by abusers within the family courts.’

A welcomed ban for the vulnerable victims who have suffered torment and torture at the hands of their perpetrators.

The Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, has ordered an emergency review into the practice with the family courts, to reform the treatment of Domestic Abuse victims. Violent abusers are not allowed to cross examine their formers partners within the Criminal Courts but they are still allowed to in the Family Courts.

A campaign by Women’s Rights and Victim Support Groups has influenced the change which is long overdue. The charity Women’s Aid have said that professionals within the family courts often have an ‘appalling’ lack of understanding of Domestic Abuse cases.

Currently Family Court judges are supposed to follow guidance, known as practice direction 12J, which is aimed at stopping an abusive partner from directly interrogating their ex-partner. However, most perpetrators are litigants in person due to lack of funds to pay for representation. This means that a perpetrator can directly cross examine the victim regarding the allegations of violence and abuse they have suffered, often including sexual violence. The victims are frequently cross-examined several times by their perpetrator, reliving the nightmares that they have already experienced once again at the hands of their abuser. This often cements the impact of the original abuse and re-traumatises the victim.

Liz Truss has said “This is a humiliating and appalling practice which must be banned as quickly as possible. It cannot be right that anyone who has found the courage to escape their abusive or violent partner should be subjected to the stress and torment of being confronted and interrogated by them in any court.”

The ban is part of a Prison and Courts bill, giving powers to grant and pay for legal representation. However the review was introduced in February and has not yet come into force. The ban has not yet completed its passage through parliament when the election was called.

A High Court Judge, Mr Justice Hayden, promises to outlaw the cross examining process following Justice Secretary Liz Truss’s promise.

Mr Justice Hayden boldly states in an article for The Guardian, “It is a stain on the reputation of our family justice system that a judge can still not prevent a victim being crossed examined by an alleged perpetrator.” Mr Justice Hayden comments that the process is ‘inherently and profoundly unfair.’ He then goes as far to say that it is ‘in itself abusive.’ Mr Justice Hayden then continues to say, “For my part I am not prepared to hear a case in this way again. I cannot regard it as consistent with my judicial oath and my responsibility to ensure fairness between the parties. Mr Justice Hayden understands that there is a real will to address this issue and comments that ‘it has taken too long.’

There are high expectations that the bill will be passed, not only from victims but also professionals within the family courts who wish to seek further protection for the vulnerable. We can only hope that these issues are addressed as promptly as possible so that no victim of abuse would ever again be required to be cross examined by their abusers in any court.

If you or anyone you know is being or has been subjected to coercive control or any other form of domestic violence and abuse, or the perpetrator has made an application in the family courts and you have to attend, don’t delay, contact the Domestic Violence and Abuse Department (DVAD) at Emery Johnson Astills, either by phoning 0116 255 4855, or by emailing DVAD@johnsonastills.com.

A specially trained member of staff in the DVAD of Emery Johnson Astills will be able to provide advice as to what measures you can take to protect yourself and also whether you may be eligible for Legal Aid.