23 FEB 2017

Resolution response to Prisons and Courts Bill

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@matthia5mueller

Resolution response to Prisons and Courts Bill
Resolution, the biggest national organisation of family lawyers, has issued a response to today's Prisons and Courts Bill. The Bill was introduced by Justice Secretary Elizabeth Truss.

According to government, 'the Prisons and Courts Bill paves the way for the biggest overhaul of prisons in a generation and the delivery of a world-class court system. Victims and vulnerable witnesses are central to the Prisons and Courts Bill, with a range of measures that will bolster their protection in court.'

Responding to the Bill, Nigel Shepherd, Resolution’s national chair said:

'We welcome the MoJ’s proposals to prevent alleged abusers from being able to cross-examine the person they're alleged to have abused. It is a reform that is long overdue in family cases where the fear of such cross-examination can result in victims of abuse not seeking the protection they need and, if they do go ahead, adds to the trauma they have suffered.

As ever with legislation, the devil will be in the detail and there is much hard work to be done to ensure these measures can be successfully delivered. Resolution looks forward to playing its part in this.'

According to Resolution, one issue of concern is that the provisions contained in the Prisons and Courts Bill regarding vulnerable witness mirror criminal procedures, but don’t adapt them for the particular  circumstances in the family court. Philip Scott, chair of Resolution’s domestic abuse committee, said that the proposals need to work in family case whilst ensuring a fair trial takes place:

'These are sensitive and important cases, often involving children’s futures. Just having a court-appointed advocate to cross-examine an abuser may be too simplistic.

The impact of LASPO has led to an increase in litigants in person, meaning we’ve seen a rise in the number of defendants cross-examining those they have abused. It has also led to more victims having to face court proceedings without legal support. One immediate “quick win” for the government to support victims of domestic abuse would be to widen the gateway to private family legal aid so that fewer parties are left unrepresented.

At the same time, the Government must urgently carry out its long-awaited review of LASPO and provide the necessary funding to allow vulnerable witnesses the professional support they need. Currently, provisions in this Bill will do nothing to reduce the number of victims being denied legal aid.

There are further measures needed to make to ensure family courts support vulnerable witnesses as well as criminal courts do, such as improving facilities. This should be an urgent priority for the government.'

More details on the Prisons and Courts Bill can be found here.

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