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ALC writes to Liz Truss about the ‘most shameful consequence of the LASPO Act’

Association offers to assist to end cross-examination of victims by alleged abusers

The Association of Lawyers for Children has written to the Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss, and to the Minister for Courts and Legal Aid, Sir Oliver Heald QC, regarding the initiative to prevent child and adult victims of physical and sexual abuse being cross-examined in the Family Court by their alleged assailants. To read the letter, please click here.

The letter emphasises that it is not only adults who find themselves in the position of being cross-examined by their alleged abusers, but also the children or step-children of the parties, who may be witnesses to the alleged abuse of adults, other children or victims themselves of physical or sexual abuse.

The ALC notes that in 2012 it strongly opposed the terms of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill which has led to litigants in person cross-examining their alleged victims, including children and young people. The letter states that it responded in detail to the government's consultation, highlighted the serious issues which would result from an increase in litigants in person, and the effect on vulnerable adults and children of the government's proposals. It also pointed out that Government had not understood the findings of research on litigants in person, and drew attention to the fact that their civil servants were keen to know more about this. The concerns of it and of others were ignored. 

The ALC wrote to Michael Gove, Liz Truss's predecessor, following its intervention in Re K and H (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 543. In that case Lord Dyson MR had said:

"[C]onsideration should be given to the enactment of a statutory provision for (i) the appointment of a legal representative to conduct the cross-examination and (ii) the payment out of central funds of such sums as appear to be reasonably necessary to cover the cost of the legal representative, i.e. a provision in civil proceedings analogous to section 38(4) of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 and section 19(3)(e) of the Prosecution of Offenders Act 1985."

The letter says that whilst no steps have yet been taken to address the problem the determination, expressed by the Secretary of State, to do so is greatly welcomed.

The ALC adds that this is one of the areas where, in pre-LASPO Act discussions with the MoJ and the Legal Aid Agency, it had expected the 'exceptional case funding' provision to be a safety net, but 'it is widely accepted that the ECF scheme is not working as those concerned with access to justice had originally hoped'.

The Association has offered to assist with the creation of a scheme which would stop the continuing abuse of victims, both adult and child, in the family justice system.

The letter concludes:

"This has in our opinion been the most serious and most shameful consequence of the LASPO Act reforms."

To read the full letter, click here.

3/2/17