Caroline Nokes – 2016 Parliamentary Question to the Ministry of Justice

The below Parliamentary question was asked by Caroline Nokes on 2016-02-19.

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what assessment his Department has made of the potential psychological effect on victims of domestic abuse who are representing themselves as litigants in person in the family court of being cross-examined by their alleged abuser.

Caroline Dinenage

The Government is committed to supporting victims of domestic violence and abuse.

The Ministry of Justice is undertaking research to explore how the family judiciary are currently managing cases where unrepresented alleged perpetrators of abuse can cross-examine vulnerable witnesses in the family court, and to establish what, if any, additional provisions could be considered to support them in doing so. A report will be published in due course.

The research did not aim to assess the psychological impact of any cross-examination on victims of domestic abuse. However, some of the findings relate to the considerations the judiciary make in managing such cases appropriately, and the report will outline options to further protect vulnerable witnesses in the family court. It was out of scope of this research to explore cases where an unrepresented litigant who is a victim of domestic abuse may have to cross-examine their alleged abuser.

Family judges have a range of powers and training to manage difficult court room situations and to ensure they are handled sensitively for victims of domestic violence and other vulnerable witnesses. Judges can intervene to prevent inappropriate questions or have questions relayed. Practical protections, for example, protective screens, video links, separate waiting rooms and separate entrances are available where appropriate. It is for the judge involved, on the basis of the evidence, to determine how the framework will be applied in a particular case.

The family courts take the issue of domestic violence extremely seriously. The Child Arrangement Programme and Practice Direction 12J set out a strong and clear framework where domestic violence is alleged and all judges receive specific training on this framework.