This month’s PSL roundup of the top stories for January 2017 sees indications of some fairly big (and keenly anticipated) changes on the horizon:
Although this news was really triggered at the very end of 2016 it is worthy of note in this January re-cap, not least because it has been raised again later in January.
On 30 December 2016, Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, issued a statement
on cross-examination of vulnerable people. He said:
'I have expressed particular concern about the fact that alleged perpetrators are able to cross-examine their alleged victims, something that, as family judges have been pointing out for many years, would not be permitted in a criminal court. Reform is required as a matter of priority. I would welcome a bar. But the judiciary cannot provide this, because it requires primary legislation and would involve public expenditure. It is therefore a matter for ministers. I am disappointed by how slow the response to these issues has been and welcome the continuing efforts by Women’s Aid to bring these important matters to wider public attention.'
At that stage, the President indicated that he would consider the review of PD12J which had been undertaken by Cobb J and would make any decisions early in the New Year.
The President has subsequently issued a further ‘View from the President’s Chambers’ dealing with the matter …
President’s View and Review of Practice DirectionThe President’s 16th View from the President’s Chambers entitled ‘Children and vulnerable witnesses – where are we?’
, was released in January in conjunction with a report from Cobb J reviewing and proposing a draft revised Practice Direction 12J FPR 2010 – Child Arrangement and Contact Orders: Domestic Violence and Harm
The President’s View focused on the evolution of attempts made to change the current position in which vulnerable witnesses and children can find themselves when faced with giving evidence in the family court. It reiterated that primary legislation was required to address the situation whereby, following the implementation of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO), alleged perpetrators of abuse could be left with no option but to cross-examine their alleged victims and vice versa.
The President also urged practitioners and all involved in the family justice system to read Cobb J’s report in full. The recommendations fall into two parts: One relates to the proposed amendments to PD12J, the other deals with a number of the other issues raised by Women’s Aid in their report ‘Nineteen Child Homicides’ published this month, and those raised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Domestic Violence back in April 2016.
The President’s View and the report by Cobb J are considered in detail by our PSL Amy Sanders in her ‘PSL Essential Update
’ of 20 January on the issue.
In January the President also revised the guidance for the Family Court
on the duration of ex parte (without notice) orders.
The new guidance clarifies the guidance issued in 2014 and confirms, amongst other things, that a without notice order must never be made without a fixed end date and time. Careful consideration should be given to the duration of any without notice order and the return date should normally be no more than 14 days after the date when the order was made.