The government has published a new draft bill which would ban the cross-examination in court of domestic violence accusers by their alleged attackers.
The Prison and Courts Bill was introduced today by Justice Secretary Liz Truss. Its various provisions include measures to address this controversial practice, which persists in family courts despite being prohibited in criminal ones. Individuals without a lawyer to represent them may have no other option but many believe such questioning represents a continuation of the coercion and abuse which may have characterised the relationship.
In late December, Family Division President Sir James Munby spoke of a pressing need to address the issue of ‘vulnerable’ courtroom witnesses via legislation and his call was quickly taken up by the Justice Secretary, who declared that the government was “extremely concerned” by the matter.
In a newly published briefing paper, the Ministry of Justice explains that:
“There is one particular omission in family law that the Ministry of Justice wishes to address through provisions in the Prisons and Courts Bill. Unlike the criminal courts, family courts do not have a specific power to prevent perpetrators of abuse (alleged or otherwise) from cross-examining their victims in person. Such cross-examination can cause victims significant distress and can amount to a continuation of the abuse. The distress caused to victims in such circumstances may also compromise the quality of the evidence they are able to give and leave them feeling that they and their children have been denied access to justice.”
If the Prison and Courts Bill reaches the statute books, cross-examination by unpresented litigants in person would be prohibited by the introduction of new section 4B to the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984. This would be entitled ‘Family Proceedings: Prohibition of Cross-examination in Person‘.
Read more here.