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Family judges hearing cases involving alleged serious sexual assault should receive training

The President of the Family Division is going to make a formal request to the Judicial College for those judges who may hear cases involving allegations of serious sexual assault in family proceedings to be given training based on that which is already provided to criminal judges.

The request is being made on the recommendation of Mrs Justice Russell who, in JH v MF [2020] EWHC 86 (Fam), allowed an appeal against an order made following a fact-finding trial in Children Act 1989 proceedings for child arrangement orders. In that trial allegations of domestic abuse and rape were made by the appellant. Russell J criticised the judge's approach which she found to be "fundamentally flawed and unjust for procedural irregularity" as set out in Family Procedure Rules (FPR) 2010.

The judgment concluded with a recommendation as follows.

"Judges in the family courts are regularly required to make decisions and find facts in cases where there is domestic abuse; this will include cases where serious sexual assault is alleged to have taken place. Currently there is comprehensive training on the procedural aspects of such trials and the implementation of PD12J in particular. Judges who sit in the family courts are not, however, required to undergo training on the appropriate approach to take when considering allegations of serious sexual assault where issues of consent are raised. Such training is provided to judges who are likely to try serious sexual allegations in the criminal courts. In principle the approach taken in family proceedings should be congruent with the principles applied in the criminal jurisdiction. I have discussed this with The President of the Family Division, and he is going to make a formal request to the Judicial College for those judges who may hear cases involving allegations of serious sexual assault in family proceedings to be given training based on that which is already provided to criminal judges. This is a welcome development, a cross-jurisdictional approach to training on this important topic will be of assistance, support and benefit to all judges and will foster a more coherent approach."

For the judgment, click here.

26/1/20