Resolution welcomes MoJ's proposals to improve protection of vulnerable witnesses

News Release

23 Feb 2017

Resolution has welcomed the ambition behind some of the measures contained in the Prisons and Courts Bill, in particular steps that will improve the protection of vulnerable witnesses.

Nigel Shepherd, Resolution’s national chair said:

“We welcome the MoJ’s proposals to prevent alleged abusers from being able to cross-examine the person they're alleged to have abused. It is a reform that is long overdue in family cases where the fear of such cross-examination can result in victims of abuse not seeking the protection they need and, if they do go ahead, adds to the trauma they have suffered.

“As ever with legislation, the devil will be in the detail and there is much hard work to be done to ensure these measures can be successfully delivered. Resolution looks forward to playing its part in this”.

The provisions contained in the Prisons and Courts Bill regarding vulnerable witness mirror criminal procedures, but Resolution is concerned that these haven’t been adapted for the particular circumstances in the family court.

Chair of Resolution's Domestic Abuse Committee Philip Scott, said that the proposals need to work in family case whilst ensuring a fair trial takes place:

“These are sensitive and important cases, often involving children’s futures. Just having a court-appointed advocate to cross-examine an abuser may be too simplistic.

“The impact of LASPO has led to an increase in litigants in person, meaning we’ve seen a rise in the number of defendants cross-examining those they have abused. It has also led to more victims having to face court proceedings without legal support. One immediate “quick win” for the government to support victims of domestic abuse would be to widen the gateway to private family legal aid so that fewer parties are left unrepresented.

“At the same time, the Government must urgently carry out its long-awaited review of LASPO and provide the necessary funding to allow vulnerable witnesses the professional support they need. Currently, provisions in this Bill will do nothing to reduce the number of victims being denied legal aid.

“There are further measures needed to make to ensure family courts support vulnerable witnesses as well as criminal courts do, such as improving facilities. This should be an urgent priority for the government”.