Domestic abuse victims are still coming face to face with their abusers in family courts, according to Women’s Aid, Resolution and The Law Society, which have called on the government to bring forward promised legislation banning the cross-examination of domestic victims by alleged perpetrators.
Current practice allows alleged abusers to question and interrogate their victim in family courts, but not in criminal proceedings.
In February 2017, then Justice Secretary Liz Truss committed to legislate to ban alleged abusers from being able to cross-examine their victim in the family courts through its Prison and Courts Bill. The Bill fell through due to the 2017 General Election and although a commitment to bring forward a ban was set out in the subsequent Queen’s Speech, the prohibition – which has cross-party support – has not yet been brought forward in legislation.
Just a year after the government pledge, research by Women’s Aid and Queen Mary University of London found that nearly a quarter of domestic abuse victims surveyed reported their ex-partner was allowed to cross-examine them in child contact hearings in family courts, a practice that the organisation claims has a “traumatic impact” and diminished the victims ability to give evidence.
Katie Ghose, chief executive of Women’s Aid, said it is “a matter of urgency” that the government bans the practice.
“We know that perpetrators of domestic abuse are using the family courts to continue to control and abuse victims, and that the family courts’ failure to consistently safeguard survivors during the court process is enabling that abuse,” she said.