09:17, June 02 77 0 theguardian.com

2017-06-02 09:17:02

 

Judge vows to ban domestic abusers from cross-examining victims in his court

A high court judge has vowed to ban domestic abusers from cross-examining their victims in his court, following a trial that he called a “stain on the reputation” of the family justice system.

Mr Justice Hayden pledged, in a judgment that described how a mother suffered at the hands of a violent husband who beat her and threatened to kill her, that he would never oversee such an “abusive” hearing again.

The judge’s comments follow promises by the justice secretary, Liz Truss, to outlaw the cross-examining practice. Powers to grant and pay for legal representation, preventing abusers from tormenting their victims directly in court, have not yet, however, come into force. The prison and courts bill, which would have introduced the ban, had not completed its passage through parliament when the election was called.

In his judgment, Hayden described hearing the case of a Pakistani woman, identified only as M, who had been granted asylum in the UK along with her 11-year-old son.

The husband wanted his son to be returned to Pakistan where he now lived. The husband had been “short-tempered, domineering and cold” towards his wife, had frequently punched or slapped her and made threats against her life, the judge concluded.

To challenge the spouse’s claims, the mother agreed to be cross-examined by the man, who made an appearance via videolink from Pakistan. He was able to ask her questions directly rather than through a lawyer.

The judge allowed the woman to turn her back to the video screen so she did not have to engage face-to-face with her former partner. Cross-examination of a victim by a perpetrator has long been banned in the criminal courts.

Commenting on what happened, Hayden said: “I have found it extremely disturbing to have been required to watch this woman cross-examined about a period of her life that has been so obviously unhappy and by a man who was the direct cause of her unhappiness.”

It had been an ordeal, he said. “She has at times looked both exhausted and extremely distressed. M was desperate to have the case concluded in order that she and [her son] could effect some closure on this period of their lives and leave behind the anxiety of what has been protracted litigation.

“It is a stain on the reputation of our family justice system that a judge can still not prevent a victim being cross-examined by an alleged perpetrator. This may not have been the worst or most extreme example, but it serves only to underscore that the process is inherently and profoundly unfair.

“I would go further: it is, in itself, abusive. For my part, I am simply not prepared to hear a case in this way again. I cannot regard it as consistent with my judicial oath and my responsibility to ensure fairness between the parties.”

The judge concluded: “I understand that there is a real will to address this issue but it has taken too long. No victim of abuse should ever again be required to be cross-examined by their abuser in any court, let alone in a family court where protection of children and the vulnerable is central to its ethos.”