The pledge by Mr Justice Hayden to ban the perpetrators of domestic violence from cross-examining their victims in court has been welcomed by Bruce Lance’s Family / Matrimonial department. The government has promised for some time to make the practice illegal but the prison and courts bill that would have introduced the ban was scrapped in the run-up to the general election and, as far as we are aware, has not yet been resurrected. In the meantime, if individual judges follow the lead of Mr Justice Hayden and ban the practice in their courts, then it will be a major step forward for the family justice system.
Cross-examination of a victim by the perpetrator of a crime has already been banned in the criminal courts.
Mr Justice Hayden was moved to pledge the ban in his own court after an ‘abusive’ hearing that he described as ‘a stain on the reputation’ of the family justice system. The case involved a Pakistani woman identified as ‘M’, who had been granted asylum in the UK with her 11-year-old son, away from her husband who was ‘short-tempered, domineering and cold’, frequently punched and slapped her, and made threats against her life. He wanted his son to be returned to Pakistan and was able to ask M questions in court via a video-link.
The judge allowed M to turn her back so that she did not have to look her abuser in the eye. Nonetheless, afterwards he commented: ‘I have found it extremely disturbing to have been required to watch this woman cross-examined about a period of her life that has been so obviously unhappy and by a man who was the direct cause of her unhappiness.
‘She has at times looked both exhausted and extremely distressed. M was desperate to have the case concluded in order that she and [her son] could effect some closure on this period of their lives and leave behind the anxiety of what has been protracted litigation.
‘It is a stain on the reputation of our family justice system that a judge can still not prevent a victim being cross-examined by an alleged perpetrator. This may not have been the worst or most extreme example, but it serves only to underscore that the process is inherently and profoundly unfair.
‘I would go further: it is, in itself, abusive. For my part, I am simply not prepared to hear a case in this way again. I cannot regard it as consistent with my judicial oath and my responsibility to ensure fairness between the parties.
‘I understand that there is a real will to address this issue but it has taken too long. No victim of abuse should ever again be required to be cross-examined by their abuser in any court, let alone in a family court where protection of children and the vulnerable is central to its ethos.’
If you are suffering from domestic violence or abuse, or would like advice on any other matrimonial matter, including divorce, the experienced Family / Matrimonial team at Bruce Lance can help. Claire Lancaster, a Partner at Bruce Lance’s High Wycombe office, is an accredited domestic violence specialist for Resolution, a national organisation committed to non‑confrontational divorce, separation and other family problems.
For confidential and sensitive advice, please visit our Family / Matrimonial page.
Alternatively please contact:
Claire Lancaster by email or on 01494 450494 (High Wycombe)
Andrew Goss by email or on 01202 679379 (Poole)