More protection for domestic abuse victims

Fri 21st Oct 2022

The Domestic Abuse Act 2021 strengthens protection in the family courts for victims. Victoria Walters from Coodes’ Family team explains more.

The Domestic Abuse Act came into force on 29 April 2021. In the past few months, certain sections are gradually being rolled out across the justice system, including the family courts.

What has changed?

One of the biggest changes the Act has introduced is more protection for victims during legal proceedings in family and civil courts.

There were concerns that alleged perpetrators who represent themselves in court were using the cross-examination process as a means of extending their abuse. Victims were being re-traumatised by their experiences.

The Domestic Abuse Act places a legal bar on parties cross-examining each other where there is evidence of abuse.

Instead, this will be carried out by a court-appointed legal professional to ensure that justice continues to be done for both sides. Hundreds of lawyers have already signed up to fulfil this important role.

What does this mean for victims?

Having to go to court and potentially face your accuser must be a terrifying prospect. I have encountered these issues time and time again during my career.

There are, of course, some safeguards in place, such as remote hearings, separate entrances, and screens. It is also worth mentioning that alleged perpetrators cross-examining victims is already banned in criminal trials.

Now this same ban will be implemented in the family and civil courts, protecting victims, easing stress, and making sure everyone gets a fair hearing.

The use of ‘barring orders’

This is another provision in the Domestic Abuse Act that is going to help those in the family court system, particularly children. Occasionally, there are cases where people keep making applications to the court in relation to children, using this as another means of harassing or getting at victims by continually dragging them through the court system.

We have all had cases where people just keep making applications, even though they have not taken any steps to address their circumstances or tackle the issues raised from the last time they made an application.

Section 91(14) of the Children Act 1989 allows courts to make orders – known as “barring orders” – to prevent this sort of behaviour. But these orders could be quite hard to get.

Changes under the Domestic Abuse Act make it clearer that barring orders will be available to parents and children to protect them where further proceedings would risk causing them harm, particularly where proceedings could be a form of continuing domestic abuse.

The Domestic Abuse Act also makes it clear that courts can make these orders of their own initiative (i.e., without an application).

This is going to make a real difference. Can you imagine how stressful it is for people to have to come to court, over and over again?

By clarifying the use of these barring orders in the family courts, the Domestic Abuse Act helps to put the focus back on the needs of the victims and children involved.

Positive changes

Many of us have felt for a long time that there were certain gaps in the legal system when it came to dealing with domestic abuse. What this Act does is start to fill those gaps and help justice in general.

I hope it will give victims more confidence in coming forward. Many people cannot face the prospect of starting court proceedings because they cannot cope with the prospect of going through with it.

And who can blame them? Imagine the thought of being potentially questioned by your abuser.

Now my team and I can reassure people and talk about all the changes that have come in, thanks to the new domestic abuse legislation.

Overall, there is a strong sense that society in general, including the police, the courts, all of us, recognise the impact of domestic abuse far more than we ever have.

Get the right advice

Our highly experienced team here at Coodes is here to help. For more information or to speak to a member of our team, call 0800 328 3282 or contact us via our online form.

Fri 21st Oct 2022

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