Tag Archive | "Domestic Violence"

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)

Domestic violence legal aid time limit invalid

Last year the High Court rejected a legal challenge from domestic violence charity Rights of Women over the lawfulness of rules that require domestic violence victims to provide a prescribed form of evidence to apply for family law legal aid.

However, in The Queen (on the application of Rights of Women) v The Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for Justice, the Court of Appeal has upheld a challenge to the government’s changes to legal aid for victims of domestic violence. Read the full story

Posted in Civil Law, Law Updates, Legal AidComments (0)

Justice committee criticises civil legal aid cuts

When examined by the House of Commons public accounts committee, leading civil servants at the Ministry of Justice admitted that they did not have the time to research the potential impact of cuts to legal aid included in LAPSO. Permanent Secretary Ursula Brennan confessed “The piece of evidence that was overwhelming was the level of spending. The evidence required was that government said we wish to cut the legal aid bill.”

Committee chair Margaret Hodge accused the department of ‘endemic failure’. “The thing that really distressed me is how you embarked on this with so little evidence,” she said. “When you were changing the rules you had no idea the impact it would have.” Read the full story

Posted in Civil Law, Legal AidComments (0)

Parliamentary ping pong

The legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders bill suffered 11 defeats in the House of Lords, far more than the controversial NHS reform bill that was recently signed into law.

The bill came back to the House of Commons on Tuesday, and the government announced that it was prepared to accept three of the amendments but would seek to disagree the other eight. It has agreed to accept that the new director of legal aid casework should be independent; that legal aid should be preserved for appeals to the upper tribunal, court of appeal or supreme court in welfare benefits cases; and to amend the bill’s definition of domestic violence. Read the full story

Posted in Civil Law, Criminal Justice, Law Updates, Legal AidComments (0)

LASPO update

The ninth and tenth days of line-by-line consideration of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment bill brought the Committee stage in the House of Lords to a conclusion last week.

In general the pattern was the same as the first eight days of the Committee stage. Subjects discussed included bail, remand, electronic monitoring, life sentences, early release, a new women’s justice strategy commission, youth cautions, offensive weapons and squatting. In all, over 200 amendments have been considered during the ten days. The only amendments agreed were those proposed by the government, a raft of technical and textual amendments. All the other amendments were either not moved or were withdrawn after debate. Read the full story

Posted in Civil Law, Criminal Justice, Law Updates, Legal AidComments (0)

Better support for victims of domestic violence

The Home Office has launched plans to tackle violence against women and girls. Spouses and partners of UK residents who are forced to flee their relationships as a result of domestic violence will now be able to access vital support services.
The UN declaration on violence against women defines such violence as Read the full story

Posted in Civil Law, Law UpdatesComments (0)

Legal aid cuts will hit women the hardest

The government is legally required to produce an equality impact assessment examining the effects of any proposed major reforms. The assessment relating to the proposed major reduction in legal aid was published in draft form when the green paper came out last November. Read the full story

Posted in Legal AidComments (0)

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