Tag Archive | "domestic abuse"

Family courts allow abusers to torment their victims

The head of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has called for a bar on victims of domestic violence being cross-examined by the alleged perpetrators in court. The practice is not permitted in criminal courts. He said: “Reform is required. 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.”

Liz Truss, the justice secretary, is said to share his concerns about how the family courts can enable perpetrators of domestic abuse to continue their intimidation and harassment through the court system. A senior Ministry of Justice source said: “This is a matter we are extremely concerned about and looking at as a matter of urgency.”

Comprehensive evidence obtained by the ‘Guardian’ has revealed how the family court allows men with criminal convictions for abusing their ex-partners to directly question them; is able to ignore restraining orders imposed by the criminal courts to protect the women; and allows fathers, no matter how violent or abusive, to repeatedly pursue contact with children and their mothers. The evidence also shows that the family court can ignore expert evidence that women are at risk from abusive men and fails to adequately protect vulnerable victims of domestic and sexual abuse.

Women are often cross-examined by violent ex-partners in secretive civil court hearings. Those who speak out risk being held in contempt of court for discussing what went on in their private court hearings, but said they wanted to shine a light on what was going on in the system.

The immediate problem is another of Chris Grayling’s chickens coming home to roost. To satisfy the austerity demands of George Osborne (remember him?) Grayling took the axe to his department’s budget. Legal aid is now denied in most family cases. The main exception is for a victim of domestic abuse. Cuts of more than 30% are crippling access to all sorts of justice.

The number of people going to court without a lawyer has been rising since access to legal aid was cut severely in 2013. The less well off and those with children are more heavily represented in those litigating in person than any other group.

Research by the charity Citizens Advice has revealed that the stress, responsibility and loneliness of going to court without representation can mean ‘Litigants in person’ (LiPS) achieve worse outcomes compared with their represented counterparts.

It also showed 90% of people who had been LiPS found the experience negatively affected their health, relationships, work or finances. Figures from the MoJ in October 2016 reveal that in 80% of family court cases, at least one individual had no lawyer.

The justice secretary has set up an emergency review to find the quickest way to ban perpetrators of domestic abuse from directly cross-examining their victims within the family court system. The research paper being prepared is due to be completed by the end of next week. It will examine whether primary legislation is necessary to end perpetrator cross-examination, or whether it could be stopped through the provision of more legal aid.

Posted in Civil Law, Legal AidComments (0)

Violence against Women and Girls

The Crown Prosecution Service is prosecuting and convicting a record number of rape, domestic abuse, sexual offences and child abuse cases, a report published today shows.

The CPS’s annual Violence against Women and Girls report shows that rape, domestic abuse and sexual offences now account for 18.6 per cent of the CPS’s total caseload and this figure has been increasing year on year. In 2015/16, the CPS prosecuted 117,568 defendants for all crimes grouped together as Violence against Women and Girls (VaWG).

More than 100,000 defendants were prosecuted for domestic abuse, with over 75,000 convicted, the highest volumes ever recorded, reaching the highest ever conviction rate of 75.4 per cent by March 2016. In December 2015, the new offence of controlling or coercive behaviour also came into law, and statistics show there were five prosecutions of this offence completed by the end of March 2016.

Alison Saunders said: “Domestic abuse, rape and sexual offences now account for nearly 19 per cent of our workload – an increase over the past six years from just under 9 per cent. While the volume of these cases is increasing, the report also shows the volume of convictions has risen by 11 per cent.

“Today a rape, domestic abuse, sexual offence or child abuse case is more likely to be prosecuted and convicted than ever before.”
The DPP said that historical under-reporting of offences meant that the number of cases being charged was only a proportion of the offending taking place. She said that the ease with which such crimes could be committed online was contributing to the increase in prosecutions.

Other areas where online abuse is being used as a tool of harassment and intimidation are within the record numbers of stalking cases being taken to court. In 2015-16 the CPS prosecuted more cases of stalking and harassment – 12,986 – than ever before. Of those, almost 70% involved ongoing domestic abuse, and many perpetrators used the internet or other technology to carry out the offending.

There was a 32% rise, to 2,094 cases, of sending grossly offensive or indecent messages under the Malicious Communications Act, and a 20% increase to 2,026 in similar offending under section 127 of the Communications Act. The DPP said these cases related mostly to online abuse, or abuse via text, email and other forms of technology.

Saunders went on to say: “Over the last year, I have doubled the resources in specialist units that handle rape and serious sexual offence cases, including child sexual abuse and sexual exploitation. Prosecutors have received detailed training including on vulnerable victims and the issue of sexual consent. Following this work we have seen a rise in the rape conviction rate to 57.9 per cent and, significantly, there has also been a fall in the number of acquittals after trial.”

Polly Neate, Chief Executive of Women’s Aid, said: “Survivors of domestic abuse are starting to have more confidence in the criminal justice system, which is why we are seeing another rise in the volume of prosecutions and convictions. However, we know that much more work is still needed, particularly in understanding of the nature and impact of coercive control, right across the criminal justice system.”

The full text of the ‘Delivering Justice’ report can be found at:


Posted in Criminal JusticeComments (0)

Legal aid restrictions

The government has loosened a controversial restriction preventing some victims of domestic abuse from accessing legal aid.

Domestic abuse victims currently have to provide evidence that abuse has taken place within the past 24 months in order to qualify for legal aid. A technical provision in the civil legal aid (procedure) regulations 2012 meant that when cases reached a final hearing, legal aid could be withdrawn if the evidence was considered to be out of date.

Having listened to concerns from representative groups, a spokesperson for the MoJ said the government was “absolutely clear that victims of domestic violence must receive legal aid in order to break free from abusive relationships.” He added: “Ministers have agreed to amend the rules so that victims of domestic violence can be confident they will receive the support they need.”

Law Society president Andrew Caplen expressed pleasure that the government had fixed ‘this unconsidered technicality’. The change follows intense lobbying by the Law Society and other practitioner groups. The Society argued that it could not have been parliament’s intention to grant legal aid initially only for it to be withdrawn in the middle of proceedings.

Another set of legal aid restrictions is now the subject of an action before the court of appeal. The restrictions delay prisoners’ rehabilitation and mean that thousands of prisoners are being prevented from starting rehabilitation because they are denied legal aid for parole board hearings.

Concerns over the removal of legal aid from internal prison hearings have focused on problems that inmates have in moving to open prisons so they can begin courses that pave the way to eventual release. It particularly affects prisoners serving indeterminate sentences.

The appeal, brought jointly by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service, argues that taxpayers are now having to pay to keep prisoners inside for longer than is necessary. According to the charities’ submission, without a move to open conditions a standard indeterminate-sentence prisoner will almost certainly never be released.

The barrister representing the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoner Advisory service, said that all areas of prison law have been removed from the scope of legal aid in what amounts to a systematic unfairness.
She said: “Many prisoners cannot access the process themselves. Prisoners live in a closed world. They can’t access outside resources. They can’t go to the Citizens Advice Bureau. The complaints systems and the ombudsman system do not provide the fairness that is lacking [in the current system].”

She added that there was no provision for funding in exceptional cases. “There’s no flexibility here. Nothing can be done.”

The Legal Aid Agency argues, Kafka-like, that inmates who have not yet served their sentence tariff are not entitled to legal aid because their liberty is not at stake. The Ministry of Justice maintains that the internal prison complaints system and the prisons ombudsman are capable of dealing with the problem. That remains to be seen.

The court of appeal reserved judgment.

Posted in Civil Law, Legal AidComments (0)

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