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, ahead of a parliamentary debate on the progress in protecting victims of domestic abuse in the family courts today (Wednesday 18thJuly).
Last year, the government committed to legislate to ban alleged abusers from being able to cross-examine their victim in the family courts through its Prison and Courts Bill. This Bill fell due to the 2017 General Election and although a commitment to bring forward a ban was set out in the subsequent Queen’s Speech, the prohibition – which has cross-party support – has not yet been brought forward in legislation.
Over one year after the government pledged to introduce the ban, research by Women’s Aid and Queen Mary University of London 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.
This reinforced findings from a Women’s Aid survey conducted in 2015, which also found that a quarter of respondents had been cross-examined. This practice has a traumatic impact on victims, diminishing their ability to give evidence and preventing them from effectively advocating for their child’s best interests and safety.
Resolution, The Law Society and Women’s Aid are calling on the government to urgently ban the cross-examination of victims by their alleged abusers in the family courts through the quickest legislative means possible.
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.”
If you are worried about your relationship or that of a friend or family member, you can contact the Freephone 24-hour National Domestic Violence Helpline, run in partnership between Women’s Aid and Refuge, on 0808 2000 247 or visit www.womensaid.org.uk.