Published: 10th February 2017
The Association of Lawyers for Children (ALC) have expressed their concerns over an initiative to stop victims of physical and sexual abuse being cross-examined by their alleged assailants in the Family Court in a letter to Secretary of State for Justice, Liz Truss, and the Minister for Courts and Legal Aid, Sir Oliver Heald QC.
The letter states that 'it is not only adults, mainly women, who find themselves in the humiliating and abusive position of being cross-examined by their alleged abusers, but also the children or step-children of the parties, who may be witnesses to the alleged abuse of adults, other children or victims themselves of physical or sexual abuse.'
Whilst they acknowledge that, in the most serious cases, local authorities will intervene by taking measures to protect a child who may be at risk, child protection services have become so stretched that unless there are other live child protection concerns about the care being given to the child these cases do not usually trigger the intervention of child protection services. They also warned that for young adults aged 17 or older, protection is not available as a local authority cannot commence care proceedings.
The ALC highlighted their strong opposition in 2012 to the terms of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders (LASPO) Bill which has led to litigants in person cross-examining their alleged victims, which includes children and young adults. The letter reminds Liz Truss and Sir Oliver Heald QC that they responded in detail to the government’s consultation and expressed serious concerns over the issues that would result from a rise in the number of litigants in person in the family courts, as well as the negative effects that the government’s proposal would have on vulnerable children and adults.
The ALC wrote to Michael Gove (the Secretary of State for Justice at that time), following their intervention in Re K and H (Children)  EWCA Civ 543. Lord Dyson MR had said: '[C]onsideration should be given to the enactment of a statutory provision for (i) the appointment of a legal representative to conduct the cross-examination and (ii) the payment out of central funds of such sums as appear to be reasonably necessary to cover the cost of the legal representative, i.e. a provision in civil proceedings analogous to section 38(4) of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 and section 19(3)(e) of the Prosecution of Offenders Act 1985.'
The letter from the ALC said that whilst they welcomed the Secretary of State's determination to resolve the issues, no steps have yet been taken to address the problem. They also added that the exceptional case funding provision is not working as originally hoped.
They concluded that 'This has in our opinion been the most serious and most shameful consequence of the LASPO Act reforms' and that they have offered their assistance with the creation of a scheme which would stop the continuing abuse of victims in the family justice system.
The full version of the letter can be viewed here. K J Smith Solicitors can help with all matters relating to domestic abuse and our team are here to listen, advise and act on your behalf to protect you and your family.
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