Vera Baird QC welcomes the domestic abuse Bill in particular banning alleged perpetrators from personally cross examining their partner in family courts
Dame Vera Baird said: “When that happens the court is allowing the perpetrator to use its processes as a tool to tighten control over the victim, showing her that even the court thinks how he behaves to her is acceptable and she will not win her freedom. Remember family cases are held in private, often in small rooms where the perpetrator can hurl questions at her at barely arms length. Stopping that is long overdue but it wont stop her being harassed in the inevitable joint waiting room before the case starts nor the obvious undermining of her ability to give her best evidence if she has to be face to face at close quarters with someone who may have been abusing her for years. The criminal courts have had special measures to protect against these abuses since 1999. I hope the government will accept amendments to the Bill so that they finally play their role in the family courts too.
“The rest of the Bill and the accompanying Government response to the consultation, rightly place focus on raising public awareness of domestic abuse, protecting victims and improving how justice is delivered for domestic abuse cases. These are clearly the right areas in which there is a need for stronger action.
“Turning special measures into an automatic right in prosecutions is excellent and further makes the point about how poor the family courts are for not having them at all. How can they be a right in one court and not a right in another? Now Police will be able to tell complainants from the start that they can give their evidence from a remote centre, without attending court, avoiding the risk of coming across the defendant or his family, whilst those who want to go to court will be able to choose to testify from behind a screen. Which specific measures apply to which complainants are matters for the judge but the automatic entitlement will mean that people will always get the help they need to give their evidence confidently, without fear.
“Domestic Abuse Protection Orders will replace Domestic Violence Protection orders and breach of the new orders will be a criminal offence. That is a good step because these orders are to keep a perpetrator away from a victim whilst s/he has a breathing space from abuse and can call in professional help. Breaching such an order will often show that the perpetrator is determined to keep the complainant under their control and ought to be met with a criminal penalty.
Here in Northumbria we work hard to support domestic abuse victims and tackle their issues and it is clear that these measures will add to the toolbox of measures available to make sure that justice can be done and perpetrators dealt with. The government has to attach a significant budget to make this bill work and i hope they are putting a sound bid into the CSR next year”