The government published the draft domestic abuse bill on the 21 January 2019. A number of measures are included in the bill including bring “economic abuse” into a statutory definition of domestic abuse and establishing a domestic abuse commissioner. Perhaps the most eagerly awaited change to be brought in by the law is the end of the ‘abhorrent’ practice of domestic abuse victims being cross-examined by the alleged perpetrators directly. This change to the law was originally meant to come in in 2017 but was ditched when the snap general election was called.
What is the problem?
At the moment the only thing stopping victims of domestic abuse being questioned directly in the Family Courts by the people they say abused them is Judges stepping in to manage the situation. This is unlike the situation in the Criminal Court where the practice is banned. In the Family Courts Judges have introduced work rounds to help solve the problem for example having the alleged perpetrators writing out questions they want to put and the judge asking the questions. In practice this still means that many people have had to endure very difficult hearings and many have described it has a continuation of the abuse itself.
What is the solution?
The bill bans cross-examination in person by people convicted or cautioned for abuse or who are subject to injunctions. It also says the Family Court has to step in where the quality of the evidence would be affected or the victim would suffer significant distress if cross-examination by the perpetrator in person was allowed to take place. Instead the Court can invite the perpetrator to get legal representation and if that doesn’t happen the Court can appoint a legal representative to undertake the cross-examination.
This change is very welcome but the government will need to put its money where its mouth is and make sure the scheme is properly funded and resourced so it works on the ground. It is hoped the bill will have a smooth passage through parliament and become law sooner rather than later.