Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, is to intervene in the case of a man who assaulted his estranged wife during a courtroom hearing.
The attack occurred at Southend County Court earlier this month during a hearing into residence and contact arrangements for the couple’s child. The judge had begun to deliver her verdict when the man stood up and punched his wife. Ushers, lawyers, and the judge herself all joined in efforts to restrain the man. He was arrested and charged with assault occasioning actual bodily harm, and assault by beating, The Guardian reports. His wife was treated for severe bruising,
The unnamed man, who had no legal representation, pleaded guilty to the offences and is due to appear in Crown Court to be sentenced later this month. And on Wednesday of this week, he will also be taken before Sir James Munby in London for contempt of court proceedings.
Steve Hynes is director of charity the Legal Action Group. He believes the increase in self-represented litigants in person since the cessation of legal aid for most family law cases earlier this year could lead to an increase in courtroom violence. He told the paper:
“[Violence] has always been a problem in family cases. It is not the first time it has happened. I have talked to judges and they have expressed concern about such incidents, particularly in family courts. But the increase in litigants in person adds another risk factor. There’s no one there to explain to them what is going to happen. They don’t know what to expect and they don’t know what the strengths and weaknesses of the case are. It can lead to frustration. The danger is there could be more of such incidents because there are more litigants in person. But that’s no excuse for such an attack.”
But a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice cast doubt on this. “Self-represented parties are not a new phenomenon. Immediately prior to our legal aid changes about half of private law children’s cases involved them. Lawyers representing a party would not play a role in court security matters, and we have no evidence to suggest any increase in this type of incident since April.”