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Women’s Aid, Resolution and the Law Society are right to highlight the problematic reality that alleged abusers regularly cross examine women, or men, that they are accused of abusing.  The issue of the abuse suffered and the gravity of it are frequently at the very centre of disputes about the future of the former couples’ children, such as where they should live and how much contact, if any, they should have with their parents.

We have a good relationship with Women’s Aid and frequently represent people in the Family Court who have suffered domestic abuse.  I am a member of Resolution and ,of course, as a Solicitor I am also a member of the Law Society in England and Wales.  That said, all the named organisations should appreciate that the matter is more complicated than simply one of protecting the rights of the vulnerable.

There is, crucially, the issue of the rule of law or rather the rights of those accused of abuse to a fair trial, Article 6 the ECHR, the right to family life, Article 8, both enshrined in our law by the Human Rights Act.  In short, we all have the right to test the evidence of those making accusations against us.  Were that not to be the case how could findings of fact made in such cases be assuredly “safe?”  The issue is more complicated than simply asserting a blanket ban for people acting in person being able to question, or “test”, the evidence given against them.

One option would be for the Judge to take on the role of the advocate for the accused.  The obvious difficulty there is the tarnishing of impartiality that may follow, if only in terms of perception.  Women in such unfortunate circumstances can request, and are often granted,  a screen to be hidden from the view of those who have, allegedly, abused them.  Helpful perhaps but of limited value.  A second possibility is for the Court to grant a Guardian for the children who can then be represented and thus take on the cross examination role.  This is, however, problematic because the Legal Aid Agency view that as a circumvention of the law that abolished legal aid in such cases.

Until LASPO in 2012 men, or women, accused of Domestic Violence or other abuse against their partner could obtain means and merits tested legal aid to be represented in Children Act cases thereby ensuring that the “victim” was not being personally cross examined by the very person they accused of harming them.  With the new regime legal aid is never available, even in the most extreme cases, for such alleged perpetrators even if they vehemently deny the claims made against them.  It is a direct and foreseeable consequence of the abolition of legal aid in most private law Family Court cases.  This was made clear to the Government during the consultation at the time.

As my beloved aunt used to say, “You cannot have your cake and eat it.”

 

by Frances Gibb Legal Editor, yesterday’s edition

Mel’s blog

January 17. It has been a busy start to the year for me with new requests for annual leave and a new training year to organise. We operate a twinning scheme so that no office or role is left without cover even during the busy summer holiday season and during school holidays. If one “twin” is away then the other is working. In this way things carry on smoothly but one consequence is that everyone wants to get their requests in first!

As for training although the SRA have consigned the CPD requirements to history we still run an extensive and compulsory policy so that all fee earners receive ongoing training. They have to do 16 formal hours of training each year on top of monthly and quarterly sessions here at the firm. Guess who has to organise it all?

I am also catching up on miscellaneous calls which involves asking people about their experience with the firm. We know that being the best we can be requires that we regularly ask the people who know best; our clients. What is pleasing is how many people are genuinely pleased to help and share their experience with me. That must show that they have a good feeling for the firm.

I better get back to it. I will write again next month.

Mel N.

It will be a busy January for Will Raine and his team. Will is overseeing the new LEAP case management system which will bring greater flexibility to our fee earners in their work. The system allows us to do all sorts of clever computing things at home, on location or even at Court. It is being rolled out now and we are very pleased to be able to give the staff even more modern technology to assist them in servicing clients’ needs. HRS believes that investment in technology is essential for the future growth of the firm and will make us even more efficient. Training is underway for all staff who are receiving in-house guidance from a LEAP specialist.

A good Christmas bash

It’s always a treat when all of the offices can get together and dress up for a big night out. The last occasion was the hugely enjoyable day out at the Nottingham races but that was in the summer and so we were all ready for another excuse to get together. This year the renowned HRS Christmas party was at the ICC in Birmingham which involved a 1920’s theme and cabaret.

Apart from a lost phone and some sore heads a good time was had by all. There are photos on the HRS facebook page. You can’t miss the boss in his top hat.. Thank you to Mel for organising a wonderful evening.

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