Sir James Munby, until recently the most senior Family Law judge in England, has called for ministers to introduce new laws to prevent alleged abusers cross-examining their victims in court. Claiming that the case for reform is long overdue, he said that despite government promises there has been no action, and that consequently victims continue to suffer even during a court process which is supposed to protect them.
A recent ruling in the High Court has again highlighted the unfairness in the current system. The victim, who had previously accused her partner of rape and attempted strangulation, was being cross-examined by him during a hearing concerning his access to their child. At this stage the judge had intervened, and proceeded to question the victim to avoid further confrontation with her abuser. The appeal court considered that the way the questions had then been put rendered them ineffective for the purposes of the court establishing the facts, and ordered a re-trial. In the appeal judgement Mr Justice Hayden said:
“The ordeal of being cross-examined by a perpetrator who is found to have inflicted physical and emotional abuse over many years will frequently be just as brutal an experience for the witness.”
That a retrial was necessary led to the victim having to endure the same brutal experience again.
The government has previously committed to changes in the law by way of a proposed Prison and Courts Bill, but this has been abandoned due to lack of parliamentary time. Sir James Munby concluded:
“The case for reform of this stain on our system is overwhelming. There is only one possible argument: it is the right thing to do.”
At Bretherton Law we know that it can be stressful and complicated when relationships break down, and the legal system can add to the stress. Turning to an experienced Family Law Solicitor is the sensible choice. We have been helping families for over 50 years, and have built an enviable reputation for our professional service and practical, honest advice.