Domestic violence cross-examination in the spotlight

family law

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.

Courtroom image by Michael D Beckwith via Flickr

Stowe Family Law Web Team

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6 comments

Andrew - February 23, 2017 at 7:48pm

Still no guarantee of public funding of a lawyer to cross-examine; so still no level playing field.
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And why any restriction when there has been no finding and no conviction? The cart before the horse and a presumption that the allegations are true!

spinner - February 24, 2017 at 8:42am

The problem is you have a lot of women lying about domestic violence in order to gain legal aid, I understand why the ex-partner should not be allowed to cross examine but they must be cross examined by someone so the man must be provided if needed with legal aid as well.

John Smith - February 24, 2017 at 11:16am

I agree some women lie about domestic violence as do some men about women being mad bad or whatever..

Why do IDVAS or other agencies just go on heresay. In this electronic age – emails, face book, text, etc.. will all highlight an abuser – of course normal people get upset and can do abusive things.. but abusers create a pattern of abusing as this is their normal….

Men start demanding a change in how evidence is presented but do not damn good women who are trying to keep the children safe.

Stitcheduo - February 25, 2017 at 11:18am

Just about every man I know going through divorce/separation are either being threatened with non mols or has had one slapped on them. Given that, and on top of my personal experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that allegations of DV are more often false than true. Solicitors positively encourage women to make an allegation so they get the advantage during divorce or separation.

Andrew - February 26, 2017 at 3:11pm

Of course most of these cases don’t take place in a room like the one in your photo, do they? They take place in a DJ’s room where you could not swing a cat; where there is no room for screens; where if both parties are present they can see each other; where there is one door into the room, down a narrow passage from the lobby of the court.
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Which rather restricts the scope of what you can do to protect the accusing party, doesn’t it?
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Unless – and I think this is the Women’s Aid agenda – you exclude the accused party from the hearing.

Stitchedup - February 27, 2017 at 11:15am

Clearly feminist organisations such as women’s aid will favour more ex-parte hearings as they clearly put the man in a position of guilty until proven innocent. They’re simply looking to tilt the scales even further in favour of women. The risk that a women may feel distress should not outweigh the overriding responsibilities of the courts which is justice has to be seen to done and the presumption of innocent until proven guilty should be paramount and protected at all costs. I’ve heard it said on many occasions that the fact innocent men are being wrongly convicted as a result of orders being placed on them inappropriately is a price worth paying; just collateral damage in the fight against domestic abuse. I take the opposite view, the risk a woman might feel distressed during cross examination is a price worth paying for upholding the presumption of innocent until proven guilty and for justice being seen to be done.

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