This week the Domestic Abuse Bill was further debated in Parliament when the bill had its second reading. It comes at a time when domestic violence in the home is receiving significant media coverage, not surprising given the alarming increases in those seeking help during the current restrictions.
The Bill will put onto a legislative footing within Family Courts, the regulations contained within the Family Proceedings Rules which sit alongside Practice Direction 12J. There will now be an effective presumption that “special measures” will be used in any case whereby domestic violence is an issue. Special measures include the use of video links, screens and regulations relating to the way in which victims can be cross examined.
This has to be welcomed. Currently, most family lawyers would probably agree that the vast majority of local courts are particularly poor at putting into place such measures. Many victims I represent find the Family Courts intimidating and simply not safe places for them to be. This is without doubt partially due to the lack of resources. I hope that the government is able to put into place the necessary funding.
The Bill is not just about the wider use of video links and screens however. After much prodding from the Select Committee since its original inception almost 3 years ago, the new Bill will effectively prevent perpetrators from cross examining victims themselves in Family Courts. Again there are regulations that already exist in this regard – again badly put into practice – but no current ban which is what the new Bill effectively does.
The Law Society has now responded that the cross examination of children by perpetrators should also be banned. As this applies to Family Courts, I would undoubtedly agree with that proposal. There is evidence about how children are affected by witnessing domestic abuse. To be cross examined by the perpetrators can only be of detriment to the children psychologically. Currently the court must weigh the need to determine the truth against the risk to the child’s welfare when determining whether a child should give evidence at all. In reality, if these rules are applied correctly it is unlikely that any children would be allowed as witnesses in cases involving domestic violence. Nevertheless, I would agree that it would be preferable for an effective ban to be put into place.
Of course, the new Bill would ban the perpetrators themselves from asking the questions. It would not mean that questions cannot be put to witnesses by the court – as current regulations allow – or via a legal representative. There are of course cases whereby false allegations are made and it is, of course, vitally important that the truth is determined whenever necessary. Will the Bill mean more funding from government to ensure that everyone is represented – I somehow doubt it.
Cartwright King has lawyers in most areas of law, and the current information we are sharing is written by family lawyer Graham Neil of Cartwright King.
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