Tag Archive | "Sir James Munby"

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)

Deep divisions between the government and judiciary over court fees

In his annual report to parliament, Lord Chief Justice Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd said our system of justice has become unaffordable to most. In consequence there has been a considerable increase of litigants in person for whom our current court system is not really designed.

He particularly drew attention to the steep increases in court fees, which judges formally opposed, meaning that the judiciary “whilst accepting the decisions by parliament to increase fees, remains deeply concerned about the effect on access to justice.” Read the full story

Posted in Civil LawComments (0)

‘Unqualified thicko justice secretary’

Yet another blow for the justice secretary, Chris Grayling. In the latest episode, guidance on who is eligible for legal aid in exceptional cases is “unlawful”, judges have ruled.

The High Court had said the guidelines on who was still eligible were “too restrictive” and overturned refusals of legal aid in six immigration cases. The government appealed against that decision but Court of Appeal judges have now upheld the original ruling. Read the full story

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Senior judge condemns government’s ‘unprincipled and unconscionable’ behaviour

A senior judge has accused the government of washing its hands of the problem it has created by failing to provide legal aid for vulnerable parents in child custody cases.

The president of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, threatened to make the court itself pay for unrepresented parents battling to stop their child being put up for adoption. In his judgment in the case of two parents and Swindon Borough Council, he said “some state agency” should pay the costs of legal representation for the parents. Read the full story

Posted in Civil Law, Legal AidComments (0)

Family courts system at breaking point

The family courts system is at breaking point due to delays caused by unrepresented litigants and overstretched judges according to Resolution, the body that represents lawyers and professionals in divorce hearings.

Jo Edwards, a solicitor and the newly appointed chair of Resolution, fears that a two-tier system of justice is emerging where private clients opt out of overcrowded, slow-moving public courts in favour of private arbitration hearings.

Cuts to legal aid have deprived separating couples of funding for representation and legal advice, leaving them to navigate their own way through the courts as they attempt to reach settlements on complex, emotional issues of child custody and division of family assets. People representing themselves and deriving no real guidance tend to bring along more supporters, increasing the number of “raised voices” in family courts and the level of tension, she said. Read the full story

Posted in Civil LawComments (0)

Top family judge adjourns case

In a judgment that challenges the MoJ’s policy of removing public funding for most matrimonial and separation hearings, the most senior family judge in England and Wales, Sir James Munby, has adjourned a case because he has reached a legal dead end.

Restrictions imposed by the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 have resulted in the family courts being inundated by unrepresented claimants because legal aid is no longer available for their claims. Read the full story

Posted in Civil Law, Legal AidComments (0)

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