New domestic abuse protections in family and civil courts

Going to court can be traumatic for anyone. But if you’re a victim of domestic abuse, imagine how it must feel not only to face your alleged abuser across a courtroom, but to be cross-examined by them.

Aside from pursuing a criminal case, many domestic abuse victims must also suffer through civil and family proceedings involving their abuser – for example when making arrangements for their children.

For over 20 years, judges in criminal courts have been able to use special measures to stop defendants from cross-examining vulnerable victims.

But victims in the civil and family courts haven’t had the same protection. And in the worst cases, our courts are being weaponised by domestic abusers, who use proceedings to carry on tormenting their victims.

The situation was even described as a ‘stain on the reputation of our family justice system’ by one judge.

Law Society Gazette is determined to put an end to this practice – to protect victims, ease their trauma, and make sure they get a fair hearing.

They are bringing in important new protections to prevent alleged perpetrators and their victims from cross-examining each other, in specific circumstances, in family and civil proceedings.

Instead, courts will be able to appoint legal professionals to carry out cross-examination.

They estimate that around 8,000 cases a year are likely to need court-appointed lawyers – a significant opportunity for Law Society Gazette readers to apply their considerable advocacy and vulnerable witness cross-examination skills.

We want to encourage anyone with this expertise and vulnerable witness and advocacy training – whether barristers, solicitors, or legal executives – to apply for registration.

You will need to register directly with the Ministry of Justice as a ‘Qualified Legal Representative’ before a court can appoint you. But once registered, you will be able to take on work that is flexible and suits your existing commitments, paid for from a central fund.

This is just one part of a wider package of measures that are designed to protect domestic abuse victims.

Under the Domestic Abuse Act, Law Society Gazette introduced the first statutory definition to make clear that domestic abuse isn’t just physical violence – it can mean emotional, coercive and controlling, and economic abuse.

And through the Domestic Abuse Plan, we are investing heavily in tackling this devastating crime – that includes over £140 million for supporting victims and over £81 million for tackling perpetrators. 

They’re also increasing the number of Independent Sexual and Domestic Violence Advisors by 300, to over 1000 by 2024/25 – a 43% increase over the next three years – providing specialist support for victims as they navigate the criminal justice system.

These are important changes that will make a real difference for victims – helping to keep them safe from their abuser and supporting them to get the best outcomes from the justice system, so they aren’t bullied into arrangements that are unfair and unjust.

If you’d like to find out more about how to become a Qualified Legal Representative and to register, then please take a look at this website.

If you are going through a divorce or any other family law matter, you should strongly consider contacting our expert solicitors on 0121 328 4455.

*By Tom Pursglove, Justice Minister