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Northern Ireland: consultation on family courts

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Northern Ireland, Department of Justice, consultation, cross examination, perpetrator, domestic violence, family courtsConsultation on prohibition of cross-examination in family proceedings launched.

Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice has launched a consultation on protecting victims of domestic abuse from being cross-examined by the perpetrator in family courts.

The Department particularly welcomes the views of victims of domestic abuse who have been involved in family proceedings, especially victims who have been cross-examined by their abuser in person.

The views of people who have represented themselves, who may have personally carried out cross-examination of another party or witness, are also welcomed.

The options for legislation in the consultation paper include applying a statutory prohibition on cross-examination in person in certain circumstances and giving the court a discretionary power to prevent such cross-examination.

The Final Report of the Gillen Review of Family Justice recommended the introduction of specific legislative provision to protect victims from being cross-examined in person by personal litigants in family courts, similar to the legislative provision which protects victims of sexual offences giving evidence in criminal courts from being cross-examined in person by the defendant.

The Domestic Abuse Bill which was introduced in Parliament on 16 July 2019 includes provision to prevent victims of domestic abuse from being cross-examined in person by perpetrators in family courts in England and Wales and also includes some measures for Northern Ireland, in particular, for a new domestic abuse offence.

Following the outcome of the consultation Northern Ireland’s Department of Justice will consider, together with the UK government, whether it would be appropriate for any provision to protect victims of domestic abuse from cross-examination by perpetrators in Northern Ireland to be included in the Bill.

However, it may not be possible to proceed to legislate until Northern Ireland’s Executive and the Assembly are restored at Stormont; Northern Ireland has been without a government since January 2017, when the power-sharing agreement at Stormont collapsed.

Peter May, Permanent Secretary for the Department of Justice, said: “The Department is committed to protecting victims of domestic abuse right across the justice system and, for this reason we want to consider potential legislative measures to protect victims from being cross-examined by the perpetrator in family courts.

“As well as the views of victims, we would also like to hear from all court users, people working within the family justice system, community and voluntary sector organisations and anyone else with an interest in the family justice system.”

Responses to the consultation can be submitted online via Citizen Space on the NIDirect website.

The consultation runs until 24 September 2019.

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