A discussion in the House of Commons on Tuesday has revealed that the government will soon be announcing legislative proposals to prevent alleged and proven perpetrators of domestic violence from cross examining their partners in court.
Criminal courts currently have legislation to prevent this from happening, but no such legal protections are offered in family courts. A sharp rise in litigants in person thanks to aggressive austerity measures, is partly responsible for an alarming new trend which features alleged abusers and proven offenders questioning their victims in court. The experience often re-traumatises vulnerable victims and can lead to severe mental health problems, with some victims even taking their own lives.
To date the only way a victim of domestic violence in The Family Court can prevent an abuser from cross examining them is by asking the judge to put Practice Direction 12J into effect, which invites the judge to step in and stop the cross examination from taking place. The Practice Direction however is only a form of guidance, and does not require a judge to stop the cross examination as of right.
A new law has been on the cards for some time, however Brexit and other matters being given priority have delayed things.
Justice Minister, Dominic Raab also confirmed the following on Tuesday:
- Section 28 pre-recorded cross-examination for vulnerable witnesses will be extended to family law cases
- Around £7 million has been allocated to 97 rape support centres across England and Wales in order to provide independent specialist support
- That support will be available to victims before and after the conclusion of a trial, regardless of the verdict.
Expect to hear more details about the proposed legislation shortly. We’ll keep you posted.
If you’d like to find out how cross examination in this context affects victims in court, our article over at HuffPost has more information.