Resolution, The Law Society and Women’s Aid have issued a joint call to the Government to urgently bring forward promised legislation banning the cross-examination of domestic abuse victims by alleged perpetrators in the family courts. The call came ahead of the parliamentary debate on the progress in protecting victims of domestic abuse in the family courts.
The Government had pledged to introduce the ban via the Prisons and Courts Bill, however this Bill was dropped in April last year owing to lack of time in the run-up to the June General Election. Although the commitment to the ban was reiterated in the subsequent Queens Speech, no legislation has been forthcoming.A recent report by Women’s Aid and Queen Mary University of London '“What about my right not to be abused?” Domestic abuse, human rights and the family courts’ found that one quarter of victims (24%) surveyed reported that they had been cross-examined by their abusive ex-partner during child contact hearings in the family courts.
Katie Ghose, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said:
‘For far too long, survivors have endured continued abuse at the hands of their abuser in the family courts. We know that perpetrators of domestic abuse are using the family courts to continue to control and abuse victims, and that the family courts’ failure to consistently safeguard survivors during the court process is enabling that abuse. Enough is enough.
It is a matter of urgency that the Government bans the unacceptable practice of the cross-examination of victims by abusers in the family courts. Survivors have been waiting for far too long. We are calling on the Government to urgently ban the cross-examination of victims by their abusers in the family courts through the quickest legislative means possible.
We want a family courts system where survivors can access justice free from abuse and for children’s safety to be put at the heart of all decisions made by the family courts.'
Philip Scott, Chair of Resolution’s Domestic Abuse Committee, said:
‘Government is well aware that victims of domestic abuse appearing in the family court, often unrepresented, are being cross-examined by their alleged perpetrator. On top of the distress and trauma this can cause to the victims, the court process can become longer and more difficult for all those involved if the alleged perpetrator is unrepresented. The family courts make decisions which often have life-long consequences for any children involved and need the best evidence possible to provide a safe, lasting and satisfactory outcome for the child.
With millions experiencing domestic abuse each year, legislation to prevent cross-examination of parties by alleged abusers in the family courts must be brought forward urgently. The Government has already committed to this measure: it needs to stop dragging its feet and get on with it. By not putting an end to this injustice more victims are suffering – needlessly – each day.'
Penny Scott, Chair of the Law Society’s Family Law Committee said:
‘It is unacceptable that our court system can be used to perpetuate abuse. We told the Government that removing legal aid would result in survivors of abuse having to face their perpetrators unassisted in the family court, but this warning went unheeded. The issue has now become prolific. The family courts have taken steps to better safeguard vulnerable users of the court, but it is high time Government acted on its commitment to ban this harmful practice.
While officials continue to deliberate, survivors of abuse seeking to protect themselves or their children through the family court, continue to suffer this injustice. It is time to put a stop to the needless harm this causes.’