On the 21st January 2019 the Government published their draft Domestic Abuse Bill which amongst other things aims to tackle the practice of allowing an alleged abuser to cross-examine a victim within the family court.
Since the cuts were made to the provision of legal aid, many parties in family law proceedings have been left with no alternative but to represent themselves in court if they are not in a position to fund legal representation privately. In cases where domestic abuse has been alleged often the victim to the abuse is able to secure legal aid to fund their representation (subject to assessment), however legal aid is not available to the alleged perpetrator. This means where the court require the giving of evidence to make a determination on the domestic abuse the victim is often subjected to cross-examination by the alleged perpetrator given that he/she is representing themselves. Quite understandably this is extremely distressing, some describing the practice as the victim suffering the abuse all over again.
There has long since been victim protection from cross-examination by the alleged perpetrator in the criminal courts, but not in the family court.
The new draft Domestic Abuse Bill will not only extend the statutory definition of domestic abuse to recognise economic abuse (e.g. preventing access to money or employment) but also to prohibit the cross-examination in family courts of the victims by the alleged perpetrators. The bill proposes that where there are allegations of domestic abuse the court can appoint an advocate to cross-examine the alleged victim as the representative of the alleged abuser.
It will be added as Part 4B of the Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984.
Although the Bill will not prevent a victim from having to give evidence within the family court it will at least spare the victim from the ordeal of cross-examination by the alleged perpetrator. It is a long overdue and welcome relief.
If you have been the victim of domestic abuse and require legal aid advice our specialist family law team at Farleys can help. We are experienced advising and assisting victims of all types of domestic abuse.
To make an appointment or for more information call us on 0845 287 0939 or submit a query online today.