The courts handle parental disputes and other cases related to divorce. The Ministry of Justice said it was working with the judiciary to bring in extra protection for the vulnerable. In family courts, judges are supposed to follow guidance, known as practice direction 12J, when handling cases in which domestic violence is cited as an issue.
This is aimed at stopping an abusive partner from directly interrogating their ex, requiring the judge to step in instead.
However, research by Women’s Aid found one in four abuse victims with experience of the family court had been questioned by their violent or abusive former partner. This could effectively allow abusers to re-traumatise their victims. It is being called for this to be put to a stop. It would come under behaviour like coercive control and unfortunately, due to the current legal aid situation in family courts people are representing themselves more and more, often because they were not eligible for legal aid since cuts were made. Currently in 80% of family court cases at least one of the participants has no lawyer, and is representing themselves.
When and if in Court family judges do have the power to protect vulnerable witnesses in Court to include intervening to prevent inappropriate questioning and ordering video links, protective screens and intermediaries.
However, more needs to be done, which is why work is being undertaken with the judiciary to consider additional protections.
It is understood that the Ministry of Justice has undertaken research looking at how judges currently manage cross-examination in cases, and the findings will inform new measures to protect the vulnerable.
If you would like any further information regarding this or any other matter please do not hesitate to contact one of our offices in Lincolnshire or Newark and speak to a family advisor.