A newly published report looking at ways to protect vulnerable witnesses in private family law proceedings suggests closer collaboration between judges and McKenzie friends could offer a solution to the current problems.

The document, which was prepared by Family Law researchers at the Ministry of Justice, outlines several ways to protect vulnerable witnesses likely to be cross examined directly in court by their alleged abusers:

  • Making public funding available to provide the vulnerable party with an advocate
  • Greater support from judges, including relaying questions to the vulnerable witness on the alleged abuser’s behalf
  • Creating an inquisitorial system where judges are fully trained to deal with the issues involved
  • Strengthening links between the judiciary, the courts, and external organisations like McKenzie Friends and the Bar Pro Bono Unit
  • Producing a ‘Vulnerability’ assessment to best address the individual needs of each witness in a private family law case

The report also has some interesting findings relating to judges and their perceptions of McKenzie Friends, which are well worth a read. Whilst the research focuses on ‘Professional’ McKenzie Friends (in this context, advisers who charge for their services, though this is a clumsy definition and many who don’t charge are also professional in the truest sense of the word), the recommendations could include lay advisers who are currently offering their support and advice free of charge.

Definitely worth a browse for a more in-depth look at the above proposals if you’ve got three tea bags and two packets of flapjacks.

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