Domestic violence, a data request and life support: The last week in family law

Mr Justice Hayden has expressed concern about the issue of allowing alleged perpetrators of domestic violence to cross-examine their victims in court. In a case which concerned the mother’s allegations of violence against the father, he explained that it was necessary to allow the father, who was not represented, to cross-examine the mother. However, he said that it was “a stain on the reputation of our Family Justice system that a Judge can still not prevent a victim being cross examined by an alleged perpetrator”. He went on: “This may not have been the worst or most extreme example but it serves only to underscore that the process is inherently and profoundly unfair. I would go further it is, in itself, abusive. For my part, I am simply not prepared to hear a case in this way again. I cannot regard it as consistent with my judicial oath and my responsibility to ensure fairness between the parties.” He concluded: “No victim of abuse should ever again be required to be cross examined by their abuser in any Court, let alone in a Family Court where protection of children and the vulnerable is central to its ethos.” The government had planned to deal with the issue in the Prisons and Courts Bill, but the Bill was dropped after the election was called.

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has reprimanded the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) for failing to provide a response to a family law data request. According to the ICO’s decision notice on 15 December last the complainant, who was not named, requested information relating to statistical data about court orders made in the Family Court, together with information about domestic violence and child protection matters. The ICO said that by the date of its notice, 9 March 2017, the MoJ had yet to provide a substantive response to the request.  Accordingly, the Commissioner decided that the MoJ had breached section 10(1) of the Freedom of Information Act, in that it failed to provide a response to the request within the statutory timeframe of 20 working days.

The Court of Appeal has rejected the parents’ appeal in the Charlie Gard case. Charlie’s parents had wanted to stop doctors taking their baby son off of life support, so that they could take him to the United States for treatment. However, the Court of Appeal ruled that doctors could withdraw support, after hearing that the treatment would be of no benefit to him. After the ruling, Lord Justice McFarlane praised Charlie’s parents for their composure and dignity, and said: “My heart goes out to them.” The parents have indicated that they may take the case to the Supreme Court.

Prime Minister Theresa May has pledged to create a new aggravated offence when domestic violence is directed towards a child, in order to allow perpetrators to receive heavier sentences. She also confirmed that a Conservative government would introduce a statutory definition for domestic violence and establish a special commissioner to stand up for victims. She said: “We will launch a relentless drive to help survivors find justice and increase the number of successful prosecutions. This hidden scandal, that takes place every day in homes across Britain, must be tackled head on, and we must respond to the devastating and lifelong impact that domestic abuse has on children, who carry the effects into adulthood.”

And finally, a woman has asked the Court of Protection to give doctors permission to stop providing life-support treatment to her severely ill daughter. The woman says that her daughter, who is in her 50s, has suffered from Huntington’s disease for more than 20 years, and shows no awareness of her surroundings. She says medical evidence shows her daughter is in the end stages of life, and relatives and doctors agree that life-support treatment should stop. The case will be heard by Mr Justice Peter Jackson on the 22nd of June.