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MoJ pledges to end perpetrators' cross-examination of domestic violence victims in family proceedings

Minister makes statement to House of Commons

On 9 January 2017 Sir Oliver Heald, the Minister for Courts and Justice, made a statement to the House of Commons on the emergency review to determine how to ban perpetrators of domestic violence from directly cross-examining their victims within the family court.

The Minister confirmed that Liz Truss, the Lord Chancellor, has requested urgent advice on how to put an end to this practice which has recently been highlighted in a campaign by The Guardian and Women's Aid. In December 2016 the President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, expressed concern about the matter. He said that reform is required as a matter of priority.

"I would welcome a bar. But the judiciary cannot provide this, because it requires primary legislation and would involve public expenditure. It is therefore a matter for ministers. I am disappointed by how slow the response to these issues has been and welcome the continuing efforts by Women's Aid to bring these important matters to wider public attention.

"I am currently considering the review of Practice Direction 12J undertaken by Mr Justice Cobb, who met with Women's Aid during the course of his review. I expect to make decisions on the review early in the New Year."

In the Commons, Sir Oliver Heald noted that this sort of cross-examination is illegal in the criminal courts and said:

"I am determined to see it banned in family courts, too. We are considering the most effective and efficient way of making that happen. That will help family courts to concentrate on the key concerns for the family and always to put the children's interests first, which is what they are supposed to do. This work, which is being fast-tracked within the Department, is looking in particular at the provisions in the criminal law that prevent alleged perpetrators from cross-examining their alleged victims in criminal proceedings, and we are considering how we might apply similar provisions in the slightly different circumstances of family proceedings."

Later he said:

"Primary legislation would be necessary to ban cross-examination. I also think there are related ancillary matters that would require primary legislation. Clauses, therefore, are required. Is work being done? Yes, work is being done at a great pace to ensure that all these matters are dealt with in a comprehensive and effective way—the urgency is there."

On the issue of the availability of legal aid, Sir Oliver confirmed that the government is committed to completing a review of LASPO by April 2018.

For the House of Commons debate, click here.