You wouldn’t be very impressed if an arsonist now said they were going to be a firefighter. Would you really believe that someone wanted to put out fires – solve problems – when they had been causing the problems in the first place?
So, there should be some hard questions asked about the Government’s announcement of their commitment that domestic abuse perpetrators will no longer be able to directly cross-examine their victims in family courts.
It is one of 9 key measures in the draft Domestic Abuse Bill which has finally been published. Leaving aside points about timing and distraction tactics, we also need to remember that this is only a draft Bill. There is a long way to go before even the positive aspects of proposals could or might be enacted.
The intention is to stop abuse perpetrators – only those who have been charged, cautioned or convicted of a “specified offence” – from cross-examining their victims directly in the family courts.
Of course, this is a serious problem – with perpetrators being able to continue their abuse in the courtroom – as has been highlighted in numerous reports in the past few years.
However, it only became such an issue because of the cuts in ‘Legal Aid’ – where previously individuals had legal representatives in such cases. So this high profile proposal that appears to commit to protecting women from ongoing abuse in the family courts, fails to mention that the problem was caused by the Government in the first place.
Deep in the detail of the Domestic Abuse Bill documents you can find the acknowledgement that the only way to prevent such cross-examination may be to “give the court power to appoint a legal representative to undertake cross-examination of a witness in specified circumstances” with the “Lord Chancellor, by regulations, to make provision for the payment out of central fund of sums to cover the properly incurred fees, costs and expenses of a legal representative”.
this is a complicated route – which may or may not happen – to provide the legal
representation that used to be available for domestic abuse survivors in the
family courts – until the Government cut Legal Aid…
Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2012/10/contents