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Domestic Abuse Bill ‘should ban cross-examination of children’

By Monidipa Fouzder

The Law Society says the Domestic Abuse Bill must go further than it does to protect victims as the proposed legislation passed a significant stage in its path to becoming law.

The bill had its second reading in the House of Commons yesterday. It will now be scrutinised by the public bill committee.

The proposed legislation expands the definition of domestic abuse and bans alleged abusers from cross-examining victims in courts. However, the Society has called for alleged abusers to be banned from cross-examining certain other witnesses too, such as the couple’s children.

Simon Davis, president, said: ‘Now more than ever, victims need protecting. As the bill finally progresses through parliament, the government must put the necessary funding into legal aid, refuges and vital frontline services – giving victims the support and access to justice they so deserve.’

Fiona Read, head of the family team at Russell-Cooke, said the bill will likely result in more trials in domestic abuse cases, ‘and as the definition is tested and findings of fact are established, what constitutes a perpetrator of domestic abuse will need to be carefully assessed’.

Last week the Gazette reported on the challenges that family lawyers face as they deal with an increasing number of domestic abuse calls. One solicitor from London firm Beck Fitzgerald spent two-and-a-half hours in one day waiting on the phone to the courts to get an update on two emergency applications for domestic abuse injunctions.

Lord chancellor Robert Buckland told the commons yesterday that, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, his local refuge had an 80% increase in referrals in one week. Calls to the local helpline increased by nearly 30%.

Buckland said: ‘The phrase “Stay at home”, which we so associate with the directions to deal with Covid-19, should be words of reassurance and comfort. The home should be a place of safety, both physical and mental. The concept of the home as a refuge is such a strong one, yet for too many people it is not a refuge. At this time of lockdown, that fear, distress and suffering is multiplied. I assure all victims that help is available. The police continue to respond to incidents of domestic abuse, and anyone in immediate danger should not hesitate to call 999 and the emergency services. Where necessary, the existing civil order framework can be used to remove a perpetrator from the family home in order to protect victims of abuse.’

The justice secretary said he will shortly reveal how the government will pilot domestic abuse courts, which were given £5m by the Treasury.

(Courtesy: Law Society Gazette)