MoJ considers extra protections for vulnerable witnesses
11th Jan 2017
The government has confirmed that those accused of domestic violence could be prevented from cross-examining their alleged victims in family proceedings, as the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) considers how to provide additional protection for vulnerable witnesses. This confirmation comes days after the most senior family judges in England and Wales repeated their concerns regarding the matter.
A spokesperson for the MoJ stated that whilst family judges already have powers to protect vulnerable witnesses in court, including intervening to prevent inappropriate questioning, as well as ordering video links, protective screens and intermediaries, “more needs to be done, which is why [the MoJ] is working with the judiciary to consider additional protections.”
In December 2016, Sir James Munby, president of the Family Division, called for a bar on domestic violence victims being cross-examined by the alleged perpetrators in court. The practice is not permitted in criminal courts.
The ministry confirmed that it has undertaken research on cross-examination, focusing on how judges currently manage such cases. The findings are being used to inform the development of proposals for a statutory framework of measures in order to protect vulnerable parties and witnesses in family courts.
Philip Scott, chair of family group Resolution’s domestic abuse committee, said that family court decisions are just as serious for children and parents as criminal cases, and thus the same protections should apply.
A report published by the Law Society’s children and vulnerable witnesses working group in 2014 noted that instances of alleged perpetrators cross-examining alleged victims was happening ‘more and more frequently’, with abuse proven in many cases. Suggestions to tackle the problem included setting up a body of registered intermediaries and a family court duty solicitor scheme.