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Ending Cross-Examination by Perpetrators of Domestic Abuse

12 MayBook of Family Law

Imagine coming home from a night out and discovering that your home had been broken into. Your TV has been taken, your money stolen and sentimental possessions lost forever. Now imagine, with the police having caught those responsible, having to stand in the witness box of a criminal court whilst the very person(s) who broke into your home tries to pin the blame for their crimes on you. It is almost unthinkable; yet for those who have experienced domestic abuse, being cross-examined by the perpetrator is an all too common occurrence.

Polly Neate, the Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, explained:

“In a criminal court, a burglar would not be allowed to question the person they were accused of robbing – so why are survivors of domestic abuse not given this basic level of protection in the family courts? Survivors frequently report to Women’s Aid that cross-examination by their perpetrator is an extremely stressful experience that contributes to the process of damaging their wellbeing and even putting children’s lives at risk.”

In an attempt to put a stop to this process, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (AAPG) last month launched a report looking at how proceedings in the family courts can be improved for both survivors of domestic abuse and their children. In addition to calling for an end to cross-examination by perpetrators of abuse, the report went on to make six further recommendations:

  1. A call for the Ministry of Justice and the President of the Family Division to clarify that there must not be an assumption of shared parenting when domestic abuse is a feature. Informed judgement should instead be used to determine what is in the best interests of the child. 
  2. The Ministry of Justice must set up an independent group to oversee and advise on the implementation of Practice Direction 12J – Child Arrangements and Contact Order: Domestic Violence and Harm.
  3. The Ministry of Justice and President of Family Division must put in place special measures, such as dedicated safe waiting rooms and separate entrance and exit times, to ensure the safety and well-being of vulnerable adults and children.
  4. The Ministry of Justice, President of the Family Division and Cafcass must ensure that all judges and court staff receive specialist face-to-face training covering all areas of domestic abuse – particularly coercive and controlling behaviour, post-separation abuse and the impact of abuse on children.
  5. Where an abusive parent is involved, the Ministry of Justice, President of the Family Division and Cafcass must ensure that expert safety and risk assessments are undertaken. This assessment must be carried out by a dedicated domestic abuse practitioner.
  6. The President of the Family Division must ensure that judges never order child contact in cases were a risk assessment has shown that an abusive parent still poses a risk to either the child or non-abusive parent.

At Leeway, we work in partnership with Norfolk Community Law Services and can offer legal support and guidance to anyone who has recently left an abusive relationship. We hope that the points raised by the All-Party Parliamentary Group will be implemented in full and remove some of the anxiety which can come as a result of the court process.

We are an independent, Norfolk based charity offering support and guidance to anyone experiencing domestic abuse. If you are in an abusive relationship, or have concerns about someone else, call our free and confidential helpline on 0300 561 0077 for advice.

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