On-line divorce scheme

A new practice direction for on-line divorce

 

As the debate on the EU withdrawal bill rages in the House of Commons I reflect on the latest practice direction to be added to Family Procedure Rules 2010, namely FPR 2010 PD36D – Pilot Scheme: procedure for using an online system to generate applications in certain proceedings for a matrimonial order. PD36D does what it says in the title with the important omission – as I read it – that it does not tell someone who wants a divorce how to access the system so you can operate it. (I may be missing some obvious step, so I apologise in advance to any reader if that is right.)

 

The PD implies that it comes into operation on 25 January 2017 (is this what para 1.2(e) may mean?), though this is not stated. It represents a first step towards digitalisation of the procedure for dissolution of marriage and civil partnership (though it applies only to divorce at present). It ‘modifies’ two rules and some existing practice directions to do this.

 

This note is not intended in any way to question the aptness of introducing schemes such as this, to help simplify court procedures (though ‘I, Daniel Blake’, the Ken Loach film, reminds us that not every-one has access to a computer; or if they have, that they are particularly adept at using it. Allowance must be made for that). No, what I am concerned about is that schemes like this are introduced in a way that is lawful (I am not entirely sure that this one is entirely lawful, as I explain); and that when introduced they are clear.

 

Lawfulness of rule changes

 

There is a statutory provision (Crime and Courts Act 2013 s 75(4)) which enables the rule-makers – in this case Family Procedure Rules Committee – to make different rules for different areas; so this differential treatment of divorce petitions, by rule-makers, is fine. A practice direction is made by the President of the Family Division with agreement of the Lord Chancellor (Courts Act 2003 s 81; and see discussion in Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government v Bovale Ltd and anor [2009] EWCA Civ 171, [2009] 1 WLR 2274).

 

There is nothing to say a practice direction (which is a lesser statutory species) can alter a rule. (In the 1990s the then Lord Chancellor’s Department provided by practice direction for a selected group of county courts to have an ‘ancillary relief pilot scheme’ to try out a new procedure; but when it was pointed out to them that this could not – or should not – be done by practice direction they introduced proper rules, alongside a paragraph in Civil Procedure Act 1997 to enable pilot schemes to be set up).

 

Now PD36D says that where it ‘applies’ – though it is not clear from PD36D when it does apply – an ‘applicant [ie a petitioner] must’ complete all sections of the ‘application process set out in the online system’ (modified PD7A para 1.2). It then modifies the present PD7A to say that where the practice direction applies a petition in the ‘form generated by the on-line system referred to in that Practice Direction’ must be used. The problem comes full circle: what ‘form generated’ etc?

 

There are a number of references to ‘the online system’; but the practice direction makes no attempt to define what that means or to tell the prospective petitioner (‘applicant’) how to get into it.

 

Clarity and the on-line scheme

 

The rules must be ‘simple and simply expressed’ because that is what Courts Act 2003 s 75(5)(b) says. I doubt whether this practice direction is lawful (as explained above: the President using a practice direction to alter a rule, which is made by a statutory body); but nor is it ‘simple’ or particularly ‘simply expressed’ in a field where it must be designed to be used by private individuals proceedings without a lawyer. Yes, I know this was drafted over the President’ name, not that of the Committee; but he should adopt the same ‘simply expressed’ criterion, surely.

 

Apart from not telling a reader where to find ‘the on-line system’, whether it is compulsory or from when it runs, the scheme suffers from a number of further unclear aspects, such as:

 

  • It is designed to operate for divorces only. A divorce under Matrimonial Causes Act 1973 is started by a ‘petition’; yet the practice direction speaks always of an ‘application’ (I know that is what FPR 2010 Pt says; but the Act is the statutory expression which has priority).
  • The practice direction refers to a ‘matrimonial order’ when it means a decree of divorce.
  • The practice direction says documents required are on the on-line system (para 5.3); but does not say where the system is.

 

It would have been so easy for the person who drafted PD36A to have said:

 

  • this system applies to all divorces from [a date]
  • it is compulsory for such divorces
  • the system can be found at [link to site]
  • the petition must be accompanied by [documents needed].

 

Rules amended by a rule

 

And if I am right that you cannot use a practice direction to alter a rule, then it the rules should have been amended by another rule (which is not an onerous task). Someone may find that their on-line divorce is challenged by an awkward ex-spouse; that an Administrative Court judge will say that yes delegated legislation (ie Family Procedure Rules 2010) cannot be varied in this way; and then a decree (perhaps where papers were not properly served) will be rescinded. If that happens, any financial orders will have to be untangled.

 

It puts a duty on the adviser who is troubled by the legality of these rules. And I speak only a year or so after two family proceedings practice directions were held by the Supreme Court to be ultra vires the President (or his predecessor) who made them (see eg Wyatt v Vince [2015] UKSC 14, [2015] 1 FLR 972).

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If Article 50, then only with reason…

Mrs May and ‘the rule of reason’: some notes

[This is a holding note: further sections need to be added on ‘rule of reason’ and the consequences if Mrs May’s reason is not exercised, or is exercised unreasonably.]

It is too late to do much about MPs and what seems to be their minimal understanding of the meaning and consequences of a referendum; and thus to stop the passage of the Article 50 bill. This is the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill 2017 (the 2017 Bill) whose short title is: to confer power on the Prime Minister to notify, under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union, the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the EU.

 

Once the bill is law – has been given Royal Assent – then the landscape changes for political to administrative. We are back to executive or government powers; and then anyone planning to trigger Art 50 (ie the Prime Minister, Mrs May), according to the United Kingdom ‘constitutional arrangements’, is an administrator. (In what follows ‘government’ and ‘executive’ will be used more or less interchangeably; and administrative law will be taken to apply to each.)

 

It is one of the cardinal rules of administrative law that anyone responsible for exercising a power must do so with reason. Parliament is sovereign; but the government – including Mrs May – is subject to the law (and as she has found already). Triggering Art 50 is one of the more significant exercises of any executive powers since the Second World War (going into Europe was sanctioned by Parliament). She has a decision to make. It is her decision, albeit with advice from a proportion of the June 2016 electorate in a referendum. She must make that decision within the terms of the ‘rule of reason’ (see Administrative Law (2014) Wade & Forsyth (11th Ed) at p 293: a leading text-book on this subject often quoted in the Supreme Court).

 

If Mrs May triggers Art 50, is she doing so with reason? If so what are her reasons? If she is not acting with reason, she can be stopped. If she triggers Art 50, but without express reason, can the clock be put back? Can her action be stopped, if taken without reason – and if this is acceptable to the wider EU community?

 

A meaning for the referendum

 

No-one in Parliament – including Mrs May – seems to know what the outcome of the referendum actually means. To act upon it, or – as she will do – to claim you are acting upon it, without knowing what it means, by definition is to act without reason. A doctor does not plunge a knife into a patient’s breast and think it will cure his or her heart: she needs extensive training to operate on a heart. So too with signing off Art 50. A high degree of understanding of the UK constitutional arrangements is needed; and this understanding is called for in an area – the consequences of referendums – which is, as yet, untrodden.

 

This note explains this proposition further, does so in the context of administrative law, and suggests what could be done about it.

 

European Union Referendum Act 2015 s 1 provided: ‘(1) A referendum is to be held on whether the United Kingdom should remain a member of the European Union.’ The section went on to deal with dates and to set out the questions to be asked in English and in Welsh. In English this was:

 

(4)The question that is to appear on the ballot papers is—

Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?

 

And that was that: nothing was said about whether this was to bind the government; what was the meaning of a referendum in UK law; how long the effect of the answers was to last (eg as the members of the electorate on the roll changed); and so on.

 

Members of Parliament voted on the bill which lead to the 2015 Act, with the following House of Commons Briefing Paper Number 07212 of 3 June 2015 in mind. (If they did not read it does that make any difference to their approach now?) The briefing paper said of European Union Referendum Bill 2015-16:

 

This Bill requires a referendum to be held on the question of the UK’s continued membership of the European Union (EU) before the end of 2017. It does not contain any requirement for the UK Government to implement the results of the referendum, nor set a time limit by which a vote to leave the EU should be implemented. Instead, this is a type of referendum known as pre-legislative or consultative, which enables the electorate to voice an opinion which then influences the Government in its policy decisions. The referendums held in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1997 and 1998 are examples of this type, where opinion was tested before legislation was introduced. The UK does not have constitutional provisions which would require the results of a referendum to be implemented, unlike, for example, the Republic of Ireland, where the circumstances in which a binding referendum should be held are set out in its constitution.

 

That bill and the 2015 Act lead to the referendum on 23 June 2016. And in the light of this, and the 2017 Bill (if enacted) leads to the power in the Prime Minister to trigger Art 50.

 

Referendum and the courts

 

In R (Miller & Anor) v The Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union [2016] EWHC 2768 (Admin) (the first of the two EU withdrawal cases) the Divisional Court said this of the 2015 Act and the referendum:

 

[107] Further, the 2015 Referendum Act was passed against a background including a clear briefing paper to parliamentarians explaining that the referendum would have advisory effect only. Moreover, Parliament must have appreciated that the referendum was intended only to be advisory as the result of a vote in the referendum in favour of leaving the European Union would inevitably leave for future decision many important questions relating to the legal implementation of withdrawal from the European Union.

[108] We emphasise that the Secretary’ of State’s position on this part of the argument and the observations in the preceding paragraphs relate to a pure legal point about the effect in law of the referendum. This court does not question the importance of the referendum as a political event, the significance of which will have to be assessed and taken into account elsewhere.

 

By ‘elsewhere’ it must be assumed they meant by Parliament or the Government (the executive). There is no evidence that the meaning of the referendum has been ‘taken into account’ in the 2016 bill. The Government have given us no indication as to what Mrs May thinks is its meaning. Plenty of MPs think they are bound in some way by the ‘will of the people’. If the people, like the briefing paper, thought they were tendering advice then this is developing well beyond a serious constitutional misunderstanding with substantial consequences.

 

Supreme Court and meaning of referendum:…

 

Administrative law and the rule of reason

 

Short essay on ‘rule of reason’:

  • Start from Padfield v Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food [1968] AC 997, [1968] 2 WLR 924
  • Unfettered discretion: contradiction in terms
  • Special care for ministerial decisions

 

Conclusion: reasonable to trigger Art 50?

 

‘Will of the people in referendum’

 

Burke’s theory: needs revisiting in 2017: mandate or representative

 

No white paper

 

No account taken of situation in 2017: May’s blinkered approach is the antithesis of reason

 

Is an electorate which votes in a simple binary elect capable of ‘reason’ in the administrative law sense of the term?

 

© David Burrows, Paris January 2017

Reasons for judgment

Common law duty to provide reasons

 

In a passage which applies to any common law judgment, and certainly to any in civil or family proceedings Lord Phillips MP (in English v Emery Reimbold & Strick Ltd [2002] EWCA Civ 605, [2002] 1 WLR 2409 at §[118]): ‘while it is perfectly acceptable for reasons to be set out briefly in a judgment, it is the duty of the Judge to produce a judgment that gives a clear explanation for his or her order’.

 

This case and the principles encapsulated in it were recently referred to in Iqbal v Iqbal [2016] EWCA Civ 19 (judgment: 25 January 2017). In that case, the Court of Appeal was confronted by an appeal by a husband who had been committed to prison on evidence which they felt was inadequate. Basic procedural rules were not followed. The husband had not been present when an ancillary relief order was made and on the wife applicant’s evidence only. A committal order was made on a judgment summons application involving just under £4M, as was explained by the Sir Ernest Ryder, Senior President of Tribunals in the Court of Appeal.

 

Inadequate evidence on judgment summons application

 

In his judgement Sir Ernest dealt with the evidence and judgment in the proceedings which lead to the order and which Mrs Iqbal wanted to enforce. Despite its inquisitorial functions, the court failed to make further inquiries as to the husband’s means; but proceeded on assumptions:

 

[20] Financial remedy proceedings in the Family Court are in part inquisitorial, however hotly contested the issues may be between the parties. The court has an obligation to satisfy itself about the statutory factors that are relevant to the decision it makes or the settlement it approves given that the parties have an obligation of full and frank disclosure. At any stage during the final hearing the judge could have asked about the existence and content of the basic evidential materials, for example the husband’s Form E. He did not. The manner in which assumptions were made by the judge can be ascertained from this exchange on the transcript between the judge and the wife:

 

Judge Brasse: He has not provided any information in this case at all.

Ms Iqbal: Yes

 

No attempt was made by the judge to test the wife’s evidence:

 

[21] … The wife was not sworn and relied upon her submissions and signed documents which contained no truth recital. There was no real attempt by the court to test anything that the wife said. The process of determining that the husband had assets of £6,440,000 was little more than an inadequate (and it appears incorrect) computational exercise based upon what the wife said to the judge in court. In one exchange the judge says “What is the evidence? (And) you have not got it” and in another he comments: “I appreciate that you do not have any actual original documents to support these, but you assert that…”. The judge was on notice of the evidential failings inherent in the process that was being conducted and yet he failed to act upon his own warnings.

 

Requirement to give reasons

 

The judge provided no judgment, nor any reasons, for what he had decided:

 

[22] The judge failed to give a formal judgment with the consequence that this court has had to analyse the transcript to ascertain whether there is a clear thread within the discussion which identifies the conclusions to which the judge came and sufficient reasoning for the same….  It should not be taken as read that this court will undertake that process lightly given the clear strictures of this court which apply as much to family proceedings as any other civil process: see English v Emery Reimbold & Strick Ltd [2002] EWCA Civ 605. Parties are entitled to a determination, no matter how short, that is capable of being scrutinised so that it can be understood and so that advice can be given about it and ultimately an appeal court can ascertain whether it was sufficient in law and on the facts.

 

It is this passage and the references to reasons for a judgment which leads to this note. In English v Emery Reimbold & Strick Ltd [2002] EWCA Civ 605, [2002] 1 WLR 2409 the Court of Appeal, in a judgment of the court (Lord Philips MR, Latham and Arden LJJ) and under a heading ‘The requirement to give reasons under common law’, said that ‘[15] There is a general recognition in the common law jurisdictions that it is desirable for Judges to give reasons for their decisions’. This is not only so that parties may be clear as to whether they have grounds of appeal, and that an appellate court knows how a judge has reached his/her decision, but also:

 

  • That justice may ‘be seen to be done;
  • If decisions are to be acceptable to the parties and to members of the public;
  • A requirement to give reasons may help to concentrate a judges mind; and
  • Reasons may also provide an important means under the common law for setting precedents for the future

 

So, said the court, to put it at its simplest (§[16]): ‘justice will not be done if it is not apparent to the parties why one has won and the other has lost’; and the ‘why’ requires reasons, not just a statement of what the judge has decided and a bald order of the court.

 

Sufficient to comply with requirement

 

So what is sufficient to comply with the requirement for reasons? There is no need for a judge to deal with every argument put forward by a party; but – in a passage the court held, should apply to all judgments (§[18]) – Griffiths LJ in Eagil Trust Co Ltd v Pigott-Brown [1985] 3 All ER 119 at 122 said:

 

When dealing with an application in chambers to strike out for want of prosecution, a judge should give his reasons in sufficient detail to show the Court of Appeal the principles on which he has acted, and the reasons which led him to his decision. They need not be elaborate. I cannot stress too strongly that there is no duty on a judge in giving his reasons to deal with every argument presented by Counsel in support of his case. It is sufficient if what he says shows the parties, and if need be the Court of Appeal the basis on which he acted… (see Sachs LJ in Knight v Clifton [1971] 2 AER 378 at 392–393, [1971] Ch. 700 at 721).

 

Thus if appeals are to work properly the judge must enable the appellate court to understand why a decision was reached:

 

[19] It follows that, if the appellate process is to work satisfactorily, the judgment must enable the appellate court to understand why the Judge reached his decision. This does not mean that every factor which weighed with the Judge in his appraisal of the evidence has to be identified and explained. But the issues the resolution of which were vital to the Judge’s conclusion should be identified and the manner in which he resolved them explained. It is not possible to provide a template for this process….

 

The court concluded this passage by referring to a judge’s approach to expert evidence and reasons why one expert may have been referred to another:

 

[20] The first two appeals with which we are concerned involved conflicts of expert evidence. In Flannery Henry LJ quoted from the judgment of Bingham LJ in Eckersley v Binnie (1988) 18 Con L.R. 1 at 77-8 in which he said that ‘a coherent reasoned opinion expressed by a suitably qualified expert should be the subject of a coherent reasoned rebuttal’. This does not mean that the judgment should contain a passage which suggests that the Judge has applied the same, or even a superior, degree of expertise to that displayed by the witness. He should simply provide an explanation as to why he has accepted the evidence of one expert and rejected that of another…. Whatever the explanation may be, it should be apparent from the judgment.

 

Lack of reasons will not necessarily justify an appeal; but if an order is made which does not make immediate sense justification for an appeal may more readily be found.

Abuse by cross-examination in family courts

 

Law reform, Women’s Aid and a Parliamentary domestic violence group

 

The All-Party Parliamentary Group report on domestic violence, Domestic Abuse, Child Contact and the Family Courts All-Party Parliamentary Group on Domestic Violence (APPG report) of October 2016  (https://www.naccc.org.uk/downloads/NewsItems/APPG_Inquiry_report_Domestic_Abuse_Child_Contact_and_the_Family_Court.pdf) deals with domestic abuse and with contact in the context of family cases where contact is ordered. This article deals only with domestic abuse in the context of family court proceedings, and in particular the further abuse which may be inflicted by cross-examination of the complainant (A) by the alleged abuser (B); and, perhaps to a lesser extent, where A – as a party – may wish to cross-examine B. This is a subject covered extensively on this site already (and parts of previous detail are repeated here). This takes the subject further by reference to the APPG report and concludes with specific suggestions for law reform, which teh Justice Secretary might like to consider.

 

The issue is described by the APPG report (page 4):

 

Women and children’s experiences of domestic abuse do not end when the relationship with their abuser ends…. Many women report feeling re-victimised and re-traumatised through the family court process, they can find it difficult to access formal legal advice and representation, and now routinely end up being cross-examined by their abuser when they are representing themselves in court as Litigants in Person.

 

The report recommends ‘special measures’ which in family courts terms are proposed to include ‘dedicated safe waiting rooms for vulnerable witnesses and separate entrance and exit times [for them in all] family courts’. These measures could go much wider, especially – as discussed here – in relation to Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (YJCEA 1999) and as highlighted by Lady Hale in the Supreme Court in Re W (Children) (Abuse: Oral Evidence) [2010] UKSC 12, [2010] 1 FLR 1485 at §28 (and see https://dbfamilylaw.wordpress.com/2017/01/09/vulnerable-witnesses-and-children-human-rights-and-legal-aid/).

 

Where domestic violence and court proceedings there are therefore two immediate issues:

 

  • To ensure that it is not necessary for A to be submitted to cross-examination by B; and
  • If A wishes to cross-examine B, and she does not have legal representation, to ensure that cross-examination for her is carried out fairly by someone else who is suitably qualified.

 

This article therefore proposes:

 

  • Ways in which some funded help for A (under (1) and (2) above) can be provided as the law now stands; and
  • Specifically to draft a suggested law reform which can be set out as a Schedule to an existing Bill and added as an amendment to Family Law Act 1996 Part 4 (which deals with the present statute law on domestic violence).

 

Family proceedings: lagging behind criminal proceedings

 

On 20 December 2016 the Ministry of Justice published a statement by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division which articulated ‘the pressing need to reform the way in which vulnerable people give evidence in family proceedings’. The need of the abused party (A) was highlighted in H v L and R [2006] EWHC 3099 (Fam) where a father (ie B) wanted to cross-examine his child’s abused mother. The judge, Roderic Wood J, ‘invited urgent attention’ (§[25]) to judges being given power to appoint a publicly funded advocate in criminal proceedings as under YJCEA 1999 s 38(4). 10 years later, beyond a review urged by the Guardian and Women’s Aid and ordered by the Justice Secretary, Lynn Truss, nothing has happened.

 

In criminal proceedings, a witness in A’s position is protected (YJCEA 1999 Part 2 Ch II). The court may – sometimes must, by law – provide protection by imposing an advocate on the unrepresented B (who would otherwise have the right to cross-examine: European Convention 1950 Art 6.3(c)) to cross-examine a victim (s 38(4); and see Evidence in family proceedings by David Burrows (2016, Family Law/LexisNexis) at Ch 8 http://www.jordanpublishing.co.uk/practice-areas/family/publications/evidence-in-family-proceedings#). The court appointed advocate has no ‘responsibility’ to the accused (s 38(5); Criminal Procedure Rules 2015 Part 23). The advocate is paid from public funds (s 40).

 

Complainant: a party to proceedings

 

Criminal proceedings in this area are procedurally different from civil proceedings, and especially family proceedings; though both are capable of dealing with the same set of facts, though with different results. In criminal proceedings Crown Prosecution Service takes proceedings. Though A is the complainant, she is a witness so there will always be a CPS advocate to deal with her evidence in court and to cross-examine B. In family proceedings she is, by definition, a party. She still gives evidence and may be cross-examined (as in (1) above, considered more below); but, if unrepresented, she is responsible for running the case and for cross-examining B (ie (2) above).

 

So if she may not best be able to deal with cross-examination of B, because intimidated or for all the reasons she may want an advocate appointed, then already – that is, as the law now stands – Matrimonial and Family Proceedings Act 1984 s 31G(6) says:

 

(6) Where in any proceedings in the family court it appears to the court that any party to the proceedings who is not legally represented is unable to examine or cross-examine a witness effectively, the court is to –

(a) ascertain from that party the matters about which the witness may be able to depose or on which the witness ought to be cross-examined, and

(b) put, or cause to be put, to the witness such questions in the interests of that party as may appear to the court to be proper.

 

So long as a judge accepts that A is ‘unable to… cross-examine’ B – and in the context a judge should need little persuasion of that – then s 31G(6) applies and the judge will ‘ascertain’ from A matters which need to be put to B and will question him him/herself in terms which are in A’s ‘interests’.

 

Section 31G(6) has been the subject of a small amount of case law; but, for the avoidance of doubt in the area defined by (2), a clear steer (ie a finding) by the common law (ie by a High Court judge in a decided case) on the subject as soon as possible would be helpful.

 

Cross-examination of the complainant

 

It is the situation at (1) above which calls for extra care, and for public funding. Formal parliamentary law reform would be infinitely preferable, to put the issue beyond doubt. However, if A is legally aided then it is suggested here that help along the lines of YJCEA 1999 Ch 2, and especially ss 38(4) and 40, could be available and be treated analogically in family proceedings.

 

Chapter 2 starts the way it means to go on. It leads with s 34 which reads:

 

No person charged with a sexual offence may in any criminal proceedings cross-examine in person a witness who is the complainant, either—

(a)in connection with that offence, or

(b)in connection with any other offence (of whatever nature) with which that person is charged in the proceedings.

 

Chapter 2, as its heading asserts, is designed to provide ‘Protection of witnesses from cross-examination by accused in person’. YJCEA 1999 s 38(4) deals specifically with cross-examination of a defence witness, which is prohibited as far as the defendant personally is concerned. It provides that an advocate ‘must’ be appointed to cross-examine to protect a victim, where the various forms of abusive situation in ss 34-36 apply:

 

(4) If the court decides that it is necessary in the interests of justice for the witness to be [cross-examined other than by accused in person], the court must appoint a qualified legal representative (chosen by the court) to cross-examine the witness in the interests of the accused.

 

YJCEA 1999 s 38(5) says that the advocate is ‘not responsible’ to the defendant, which must be taken to mean that, as for any advocate, his/her duty is to the court and that he must, in fairness to both complainant and the defendant, do his/her best in objective terms to secure for both a fair trial; but s/he has no client and takes direction from the court. Procedure for appointment is set out in Criminal Procedure Rules 2015 (‘CrPR 2015’) Part 23.

 

Payment is by public funds. YJCEA 1999 s 40 (as an insertion to Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 s 19(3)) says – with no fuss, and under the heading ‘Funding of defence representation’:

 

… To cover the proper fee or costs of a legal representative appointed under section 38(4) of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (defence representation for purposes of cross-examination) and any expenses properly incurred in providing such a person with evidence or other material in connection with his appointment.

 

Funding of help for the complainant: legal aid and Human Rights Act 1998 factors

 

Sir James’s 30 December 2016 statement continues: judges cannot act because ‘it requires primary legislation and would involve public expenditure’. Supreme Court authority doubts this. Much can be done by judges under the common law says Lady Hale (Re W (Children) (Abuse: Oral Evidence) (above) (a case involving evidence from a child witness) the family courts can act (italics added):

 

[28] There are things that the [family] court can do but they are not things that it is used to doing at present. It is not limited by the usual courtroom procedures or to applying the special measures by analogy…. One possibility is an early video’d cross examination…. Another is cross-examination via video link [or] putting the required questions to her through an intermediary. This could be the court itself, as would be common in continental Europe and used to be much more common than it is now in the courts of this country.

 

If B’s cross-examination genuinely ‘diminishes’ (see YJCEA 1999 s 16) A’s evidence and denies her a fair trial, her European Convention 1950 Art 6(1) rights are engaged. If legal aid is not available (ie the case is outside LASPOA 2012 Sch 1 paras 11-13 (domestic violence etc)), A should apply for exceptional case funding (LASPOA 2012 s10(3); R (Gudanaviciene) v [LAA] [2014] EWCA Civ 1622). Resources questions can be addressed under the present law, whatever Sir James and Truss’s review say.

 

Common law and a fair trial

 

Witness/party protection and fair trial rights depend on:

 

  • Special measures (equivalent to YJCEA 1999 ss23-28 and per Re W [28] (above)) applicable in family proceedings; and
  • A has a right to a fair trial; and to give evidence of a quality which is not ‘diminished’ (akin to YJCEA 1999 s16).

 

If the above is right A must be protected by special measures such as a ‘s 38(4)’ equivalent advocate: is her trial fair without this? If the answer is ‘no’ then A’s fair trial rights are engaged, and LASPOA 2012 s 10(3) may apply. This article argues that protection for A can be funded – now – from an existing legal aid certificate (Sch 1 paras 11-13) and pro-active common law case management. And, it must be stressed: this is not a plea for Presidential ‘practice guidance’ or a ‘tool-kit’. It is a straight-forward urging – with Lady Hale’s Re W words in mind – to a High Court judge to order appointment to be funded from a civil legal services certificate (the that judge is willing to find it within his/her inherent jurisdiction). It is a straight question of whether the common law is willing to move in that direction.

 

If para 11-13 legal aid is not available, then if A’s evidence is ‘diminished’ (within the terms of YJCEA 1999 s 16), and if a fair trial is thereby threatened, European Convention 1950 Art 6(1) is engaged. LASPOA 2012 s 10(3) may bite. Either way, can YJCEA 1999 s 38(4) be applied by analogy in family proceedings? And, if so, can it be funded by legal aid?

 

With CrPR 2015 Part 23, s 38(4) provides a model for court advocate appointment. B has a fair trial: his ‘accuser’ is professionally cross-examined. The following argument can be tested in the Family Division, alongside Lady Hale’s Re W§[28] comments:

 

  • a High Court judge has inherent jurisdiction to regulate the court’s procedure;
  • justice would be promoted (perhaps only made possible: operation of YJCEA 1999 Part 2 readily attests to this) by a ‘s38(4)’ appointment
  • this assistance cannot now be funded direct from public funds (cf YJCEA 1999 s40)
  • with pro-active case management this can be done on legal aid certificate (either under a conventional Sch 1, or a s10(3), certificate).

 

Law reform and public funding: the court appointed advocate

 

Finally, what about statute law reform? It will be assumed, first, that s 31G(6) does what it is said to do above, but common law clarity would be helpful.

 

This leaves the court-appointed advocate, the funding of that advocate and amendments to the rules to cover that. For example, drawing directly on YJCEA 1999 ss 34, 38(4) and 40 amendments to Family Law Act 1996 along the lines of the following could be passed in Parliament:

 

  • In the circumstances set out in paragraph (2) no person (B) who is the subject of an application under this Act may in any family proceedings cross-examine in person a party (A) to those proceedings who is the complainant in connection
  1. with that application; or
  2. in any other proceedings in which the allegations the subject of the application arise [ie to cover issues also in eg contact proceedings].

 

  • The circumstances referred to in paragraph (1) are that A has made an application under this Act and has requested the judge that an appointment be made as at paragraph (3) below.

 

  • If application is made under paragraph (2) for A to be cross-examined other than by B the court must appoint a qualified legal representative (chosen by the court) to cross-examine the witness in the interests of the accused.

 

  • The person appointed at paragraph (3) is not responsible to B

 

  • To cover the proper fee or costs of a legal representative appointed under Family Law Act 1996 s ## [ie (3) above] (respondent’s representation for purposes of cross-examination) and any expenses properly incurred in providing such a person with evidence or other material in connection with his or her appointment [shall be met from public funds].

 

This will need tightening up a lot; but it represents a start….

Reply to Roger Scruton’s conservative view on rights

Freedoms and claim-rights

 

Sir Roger Scruton’s essay on How do we decide which human rights should be protected in law is published as a blog at http://barristerblogger.com/2017/01/08/exclusive-guest-post-sir-roger-scruton-decide-human-rights-protected-law/ . I plan a longer reply in relation to human rights and family law generally. In the meantime the following is developed slightly from my comment on the host blog site.

 

Scruton is introduced as ‘the country’s leading conservative philosopher and thinker’. This may be an ambitious claim; but it is not the purpose of this note to deny it. It is fair to ask: why do we have to ‘decide rights to be protected’; but space prevents an answer to that, perhaps the real question. And, in any event, Scruton does not answer it. He merely tells us what he considers to be rights and – though these are part of the thinking behind European Convention 1950 – what are not, in his view, rights. He concludes that certain rights which protect individual ‘sovereignty’ should be retained and claim-rights be ‘adopted, if at all, with caution’.

 

His paper divides rights into freedom and claim-rights (or benefit rights). The former are the classic rights to which an individual may be said to be entitled: a right to life, to a fair trial, to compensation in tort for injury; and certain rights to protect the individual from government oppression (torture, privacy etc). These rights create in the rest of us matching duties not to encroach on them. They are the rights of the individual and, by definition, entirely selfish (and no criticism is thereby intended by use of ‘selfish’).

 

Claim rights are the main thrust of Scruton’s argument and opprobrium. He appears to date them largely to a post-Second World War period (on the evidence of this paper Scruton’s grasp of history is not strong). He categorises these rights as: ‘claims for benefits, and rights to “non-discrimination” accorded to privileged (sic) groups’.

 

Discrimination and benefits rights

 

Let us dispose immediately of ‘privileged’. A knowledge of discrimination laws surely indicates that its whole purpose is not to provide privileges but to increase to a general level for the less privileged, rights which others already have? Thus in 1928 all women over 21 got more or less the same rights as men to vote – was that a privilege? Since then they have become entitled to equal status (but perhaps not yet equal access) as students, judges and company directors. It took a civil war in the States to erode slavery; and discrimination was still (still is, perhaps?) strong. It is cheap, I am afraid, to take – as Scruton does – Travellers and gay’s wedding cakes as the hall mark of your anti-discrimination argument. There are much more significant and larger groups whom discrimination protects.

 

My favourite discrimination is that which the zebra-crossing creates for the pedestrian over the otherwise all-powerful (subject to regulation by speed limits, taxation etc etc: yes I know…). For me the car is the supreme exemplar of Toryism and selfishness; and for any pedestrian, moving along at 3/4 mph, to be able to step out in front of and momentarily control the car driver is a true freedom. In Scruton’s terms, I think, it would be an example of outrageous, and unjustifiable, discrimination.

 

Rights to ‘Christian’ community responsibilities (or ‘socialist direction’)

 

And of benefits rights: you don’t have to be a Christian – a reading of the Bible, as a valuable historical and political text, might help – to know the parable of the ‘Good Samaritan’. This parable may be said to teach a modern liberal approach to responsibilities. It is an approach which is well over two thousand years’ old. It was this approach which informed medieval ideas of community (one of the oldest administrative law cases – Rooke’s Case (1598) 5 Co Rep 99b – establishes the modern duty of the community as a whole to provide flood defences), the Tudor poor laws (Wolsey is credited by some with initiating the first legal aid scheme); and, yes, of the shift in the 19th century from charity provided by individuals to individual rights, mostly provided by the community or state.

 

I give this last point to Scruton; but I base it (as a non-Christian) on ordinary West European impulses which I regard as wholly ‘Christian’. He might see them as ‘a socialist direction’ (see p 7 in my copy of his essay). Perhaps as a modern liberal (to be distinguished from Scruton’s ‘classical liberal’ (ie ultra conservative, as I read him)) I believe that the state should tax the rich and others with income (or, perhaps, assets as well). It should give to those (per Keynes, Beveridge): who need – the sick, children’s education; police; amenities (drainage, roads etc); those who need help with protection of rights (eg lawyers); where the environment needs protection; for defence (perhaps); and so on. In other words: in ‘Christian’ or human – civilised, may I say? – terms, all this is for the good of the community or ‘common wealth’.

 

In the two millennia since Christ (at least) rights have developed to create not only individual rights, but also community responsibilities. Scruton would see these responsibilities pared to a minimum. A modern society, I believe, should retain the claim of benefits rights so far achieved; and should continue to review them and – as need be – edge them forwards.

Vulnerable witnesses and children: human rights and legal aid

Cross-examination of victims of domestic violence

 

Women’s Aid and the Guardian are concerned about the lack of protection for victims of domestic violence in family courts where their alleged abuser is permitted to cross-examine them. This article develops some of the ideas touched on in my earlier Vulnerable witnesses, parties and children in family proceedings at https://dbfamilylaw.wordpress.com/2017/01/05/vulnerable-witnesses-parties-and-children-in-family-proceedings/. The wider problems of vulnerable witnesses and of children in family cases go much deeper than this, as will be explained. The question to be addressed here is: can these problems be helped by legal aid under the existing statute and common law? Sir James Munby P (or his Ministry of Justice draftsperson) thinks not. I think he – or the Ministry – may be wrong.

 

On 20 December 2016 the Ministry of Justice published a statement by Sir James which articulated ‘the pressing need to reform the way in which vulnerable people give evidence in family proceedings’. Family justice ‘lags woefully behind the criminal justice system’, he said. The problem identified by Women’s Aid arises where an alleged abuser (‘B’: generally male, though not invariably) personally cross-examines the victim (‘A’) in (say) domestic violence proceedings; including, as the Guardian says, by ‘tormenting’ her in court.

 

Under press pressure the Justice Secretary, Lynn Truss, has ordered a review. In reality the problems, partly those of the women in A’s position, go much deeper than Truss’s review. In truth they are a feature of the unmet legal need faced by the real shortcomings in our family just system when it comes to protection of child witnesses and other vulnerable witnesses (as identified eg by Amnesty International: see eg Cuts that hurt (2016) Amnesty International (https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/eur45/4936/2016/en/)).

 

‘Urgent attention’ judicially requested 10 years ago

 

The problem identified above is precisely illustrated by the facts in H v L and R [2006] EWHC 3099 (Fam) [2007] 2 FLR 162 where an alleged abuser (ie B) wanted to cross-examine the abused mother (A) of his child. Roderic Wood J said, in a judgment given over 10 years ago (7 December 2007):


[25]   I would invite urgent attention as to creating a new statutory provision which provides for representation in such circumstances, analogous to the existing statutory framework governing criminal proceedings as set out in the 1999 Act. Such a statutory provision should also provide that the costs of making available to the court an advocate should fall on public funds. I can see no distinction in policy terms between the criminal and the civil process.

 

The same can apply, in exactly the same way, to child or young adult victims of alleged abuse (see eg Re A (Sexual Abuse: Disclosure) [2012] UKSC 60). H v L and Re A are 10 and five years old respectively; yet the problem subsists. Judges think they are powerless to help, lawyers – it seems – can see no way through and the Ministry of Justice is impervious to the problems. This article question whether, in law, the judges are as powerless as they and the President seems to think.

 

Child and vulnerable witness protection in criminal proceedings

 

In criminal proceedings in the parallel situation, the child or other vulnerable witness (eg a party to alleged domestic abuse) cannot be put in this ‘tormented’ position. In relation to a child, s/he has automatic protection by the court having power to impose and order payment from public funds of an advocate to cross-examine a victim. YJCEA 1999 Part 2 Ch II (ss 34-40) is entitled ‘Protection of witnesses from cross-examination by accused in person’. By analogy in family proceedings this can be taken to include one allegedly abusive party of another, of a witness (as in Re A (above) or of a child. The tone is set by s 34 (a subject more widely explained by Lady Hale in R (D (a minor)) v Camberwell Green Youth Court [2005] UKHL 4, [2005] 1 WLR 393; and see Evidence in family proceedings by David Burrows (2016, Family Law/LexisNexis) at Chs 8 and 19):

 

No person charged with a sexual offence may in any criminal proceedings cross-examine in person a witness who is the complainant, either—

(a)in connection with that offence, or

(b)in connection with any other offence (of whatever nature) with which that person is charged in the proceedings.

 

YJCEA 1999 Part 1 Ch II widens the spectrum of offences to deal with other forms of abusive allegations. Section 38(4) provides that and advocate ‘must’ be appointed to cross examine (as mentioned in the otherwise unhelpful Re K & H (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 543)) to protect a victim, where ss 34-36 apply:

 

(4) If the court decides that it is necessary in the interests of justice for the witness to be [cross-examined other than by accused in person], the court must appoint a qualified legal representative (chosen by the court) to cross-examine the witness in the interests of the accused.

 

The advocate has no ‘responsibility’ to the accused (s 38(5)). Procedure for appointment, which could be adapted for use in family courts is fully set out in Criminal Procedure Rules 2015 (‘CrPR 2015’) Part 23.

 

Resources implications; legal aid

 

Sir James’s statement (or the MoJ draftsperson) continues: the family courts judiciary cannot act because ‘it requires primary legislation and would involve public expenditure. It is therefore a matter for ministers’. This is unlikely to be the law. Yes, public expenditure is involved; but much of this can be provided under judges existing common law and statutory powers (including use of YJCEA 1999 ‘special measures’ by analogy) and with full use being made of exceptional case funding (LASPOA 2012 s 10(3))).

 

In Re W (Children) (Abuse: Oral Evidence) [2010] UKSC 12 (a case involving evidence from a child witness) Lady Hale spoke of existing measures and of family court judges’ reticence to use them (emphasis added):

 

[28] The family court will have to be realistic in evaluating how effective it can be in maximising the advantage while minimising the harm. There are things that the court can do but they are not things that it is used to doing at present. It is not limited by the usual courtroom procedures or to applying the special measures by analogy…. One possibility is an early video’d cross examination…. Another is cross-examination via video link [or] putting the required questions to her through an intermediary. This could be the court itself, as would be common in continental Europe and used to be much more common than it is now in the courts of this country.

 

Scale of the problem in family courts

 

The problem is much wider than the Justice Secretary seems to understand. In 2014 a working group was set up by Sir James to consider the evidence of vulnerable witnesses where this might be ‘diminished’ by their attendance in court as witnesses, parties or other participants in family proceedings (considered further in http://www.familylaw.co.uk/news_and_comment/family-proceedings-common-law-and-vulnerable-witnesses).

 

The group produced draft rules in mid-2015. The draft took many leads from criminal proceedings under Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (special measures to help children and vulnerable witnesses). Still no new rules have been formalised. The draft covers children and vulnerable individuals. It includes – but this is only one element – provision for those who are subjected to further abuse by being cross-examined in person by their alleged abuser. Victims include one of a former couple; a child who gives evidence proceedings; or any other witness in family proceedings.

 

The Ministry is aware that the rules amendments have resources implications; but so too have the 1999 adjustments in criminal proceedings. In family proceedings legal aid could be used in European Convention 1950 exceptional case funding for vulnerable parties and children; and many of the criminal proceedings measures are already available but not used, in family proceedings as Lady Hale has pointed out in Supreme Court (Re A (Sexual Abuse: Disclosure) [2012] UKSC 60, [2013] 1 FLR 948 at §[28]).

 

Exceptional case funding

 

Legal aid may be available as an ‘exceptional case’ (LASPOA 2012 s 10(1)) where funding is not otherwise available under the relatively narrow range of representation under the main civil legal aid provisions of LASPOA 2012 Part 1 Sch 1 (available civil legal services). Section 10(2) then goes on to provide that is the LAA considers the case appropriate for an exceptional case determination and an applicant is available on means, civil legal services can be provided. Section 10(3) defines an ‘exceptional case’:

 

(3)For the purposes of subsection (2), an exceptional case determination is a determination—

(a) that it is necessary to make the services available to the individual under this Part because failure to do so would be a breach of—

(i) the individual’s Convention rights (within the meaning of the Human Rights Act 1998), or

(ii) any rights of the individual to the provision of legal services that are enforceable EU rights, or

(b) that it is appropriate to do so, in the particular circumstances of the case, having regard to any risk that failure to do so would be such a breach.

 

In R (ota Gudanaviciene & Ors) v The Director of Legal Aid Casework & Ors [2014] EWCA Civ 1622 the Court of Appeal made clear that ‘Exceptionality [under s 10(3)] is not a test’ (§[29]), it is a descriptor of the legal aid to be granted. The court (at §§[31]-34]) explained how the Legal Aid Agency should treat and assess an application for exceptional case funding.

 

Resolution of resources questions

 

YJCEA 1999 ss 16 and 17 create three categories of witness who may be eligible for assistance by a special measures direction. A witness under 17 is automatically entitled to assistance (s 16(1)(a)). Secondly, s 16(1)(b) deals with incapacitated witnesses (as defined in s 16(2)); and  thirdly, s 17(1) with witnesses effected by “fear or distress”. In the last two cases the court must be satisfied that any evidence “is likely to be diminished” by the circumstances of evidence being given. In what follows “witness” by analogy will include a party in family proceedings.

 

If a witness comes within one of the categories in YJCEA 1999 ss 16 or 17 s/he may be eligible for special measures assistance (YJCEA 1999 ss 23-30), including: preventing a witness from seeing a party (YJCEA 1999 s 23); evidence by live link (s 24); hearing a witness’s evidence in private (s 25); video recorded evidence or cross-examination (ss 27 and 28); and questioning a witness through an intermediary (s 29) or device (s 30). In family proceedings, the measures available for a witness would be the same as for a party.

 

If the tormenting or other in-court abuse of the witness/party denies her a fair trial, including because the value of her evidence is ‘diminished, it is not a fair trial fair for her or for the party for whom she is giving evidence. European Convention 1950 Art 6(1) rights are engaged. Means assessment permitting, and if legal aid is not already available, she may be entitled to legal aid as an exceptional case determination (LASPOA 2012 s 10(3)). If this is correct, resources questions can be addressed now, without changes to primary legislation. The law in this area – which Lady Hale’s comment in Re A [2012] above clarifies – could be represented by:

 

  • The list of special measures in YJCEA 1999 ss 23-28 as developed and explained by Lady Hale in Re W can be applied, by analogy or where otherwise already available, in family proceedings;
  • Regard being paid to the victim – ie A’s – right to a fair trial; and as to what is required to ensure she can give evidence of a quality which is not diminished (YJCEA 1999 ss 16 and 17); and
  • If rights are required to be protected by special measures and an intermediary (or cross-examination by an advocate in the same way as in YJCEA 1999 s 38(4)), then is her trial fair without this (if resources must be spent)?

 

If the answer to the final question above is ‘no’, then her fair trial rights, are engaged. If she has legal aid under a certificate within the terms of LASPOA 2012 Sch 1 paras 11-13 (domestic violence, children etc), then this needs amendment to secure intermediary or advocacy help (on analogy with YJCEA 1999 s 38(4)). If not, and fair trial rights are in issue, then s 10(3) exceptional case determination may be engaged.

 

Effective, imaginative and pro-active case management

 

The practical and resources issues which children and vulnerable witnesses raise fall into two main categories:

 

  • A as a victim or alleged abuse: that is, in the situation identified by the Guardian and Sir James Munby P (and dealt with in H v L and R (above) and (less satisfactorily) in Re K & H (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 543 sub nom K and H (Private Law: Public Funding)[2016] 1 FLR 754
  • The child or other vulnerable individual (as eg defined by YJCEA 1999 s 16 and 17) – or a party, under the same pressures in family proceedings – who gives evidence, which may be diminished by the circumstances of the case, and where special measures are called for (see Lady Hale in Re W [2010] (above) and Re A (above)).

 

Given what was said by Lady Hale in Re W the second category of cases resolves itself by effective, imaginative and pro-active case management which, as Lady Hale asserts, judges can do, but fail to take on (things ‘the court can do but … that it is [not] used to doing at present’: Re W per citation of §[28] above). If a party has legal aid – and practitioners should be wary of any statutory charge issues if the certificate applies to other proceedings – then proactive case management and full use of court resources (eg video-link; live-link and screens) can deal most special measures. If particular intermediary support is needed and this has resources issues amendment of legal aid will be needed.

 

YJCEA 1999 s 38(4) (quoted above) – if this is taken as a model for now for what follows – deals with potentially abusive cross-examination, where B is unrepresented, by imposing on B an advocate (who is not ‘responsible’ to B). It requires him/her to assist the court and to ensure, in the circumstances, that B has a fair trial; and to do so by cross-examining A. This is funded by B cannot in law do so. How would that work in family proceedings? Under YJCEA 1999 s 40 payment from public funds is provided for (and the working of these payments is touched on by Justice denied? The experience of unrepresented defendants in the criminal courts April 2016, by Transform Justice at p 15 (http://www.transformjustice.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/TJ-APRIL_Singles.pdf). If the Ministry of Justice can do this for victims in criminal proceedings, why not the same for those in a similar position – perhaps being cross-examined on the same facts as those in criminal proceedings – in family proceedings?

 

‘Special measures’ and legal aid

 

Category (1) (above) represents the Truss review problem. This can be funded – now – from an existing certificate (Sch 1 paras 11-13). If para 11-13 legal aid is not available, then if A’s evidence is ‘diminished’ and a fair trial threatened, Art 6(1) is engaged; and s 10(3) may bite. Either way, can YJCEA 1999 s 38(4) be applied by analogy in family proceedings? And, if so, can it be funded by legal aid?

 

With CrPR 2015 Part 23, s38(4) provides a model for court advocate appointment. B has a fair trial: his ‘accuser’ is professionally cross-examined. The following argument can be tested in the Family Division, alongside Lady Hale’s Re W§[28] comments:

 

  • a High Court judge has inherent jurisdiction to regulate the court’s procedure;
  • justice would be promoted (perhaps only made possible: operation of YJCEA 1999 Part 2 readily attests to this) by a ‘s38(4)’ appointment
  • this assistance cannot now be funded direct from public funds (cf YJCEA 1999 s40)
  • with pro-active case management this can be done on legal aid certificate (either under a conventional Sch 1, or a s10(3), certificate).

Vulnerable witnesses, parties and children in family proceedings

Cross-examination of victim by an alleged abuser

 

The Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, and her Ministry of Justice have woken up – at last – to the real dangers and hardship created by the present framework of certain family proceedings. The hardship has been aggravated by the cut-backs in legal aid since April 2013.

 

On 30 December 2016 a statement by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division (https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/announcements/president-of-the-family-division-sir-james-munby-cross-examination-of-vulnerable-witnesses-in-the-family-court/) was issued by the Ministry. It followed a Guardian report before Christmas which dealt with, as it was said, the further abuse of domestic abuse victims permitted by family courts (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/dec/22/revealed-how-family-courts-allow-abusers-to-torment-their-victims ). The concerns raised by the Guardian and the President have lead to a report that the Justice Secretary, Lyn Truss, is looking into the problems raised (https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jan/04/truss-orders-review-to-ban-abusers-tormenting-victims-in-family-courts); and the Guardian has followed all this with a strong leader voicing concerns at the delay in protection for unrepresented victims of alleged abuse (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/05/the-guardian-view-on-family-courts-cuts-hurt?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm).

 

This note concentrates – as do the Guardian articles – on the victims of alleged abuse; but the subject and the reforms needed in the family justice system go much wider; though these reforms altogether, alongside those referred to by Sir James, are together stalled by the delays insisted upon by Ministry of Justice. Reforms are urgently needed in three separate (if sometimes overlapping) areas of the work of the family courts:

 

  • the evidence of children (as distinct from their views) in their own proceedings (as in Re W [2010] (below));
  • cases where the judge may be asked to hear the views of a child; and
  • the evidence of vulnerable adult witnesses (as in eg Re A [2012] (below)).

 

Evidence of ‘vulnerable people’ in family proceedings

 

In his statement Sir James emphasised ‘the pressing need to reform the way in which vulnerable people give evidence in family proceedings’. He pointed out that ‘the family justice system lags woefully behind the criminal justice system’ (eg under Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (YJCEA 1999) Part 2, as discussed below). He said that the courts cannot act, since ‘it requires primary legislation’; and any action ‘would involve public expenditure. It is therefore a matter for ministers’.

 

The criminal justice ground work – to which the President refers – is in place under YJCEA 1999. A background to this legislation is provided, for example, by Lady Hale in House of Lords in R ((D) (a minor)) v Camberwell Green Youth Court [2005] UKHL 4, [2005] 1 WLR 393 at para [19] (and see R v Lubemba & Ors [2014] EWCA (Crim) 2064 and Evidence in family proceedings by David Burrows (2016, Family Law/LexisNexis) Chs 8 and 19).

 

Lady Hale considered the specific subject of vulnerable witnesses, their evidence and cross-examination by their alleged abuser, in Re A (Sexual Abuse: Disclosure) [2012] UKSC 60, [2013] 1 FLR 948. She stressed the ‘flexible’ bases on which family courts can deal with evidence from witnesses – and by extension, children – who, it is said, had been abused by a party (eg by the father of A in Re A):

 

[36] It does not follow, however, that X [a vulnerable young adult] will have to give evidence in person…. Family proceedings have long been more flexible than other proceedings in this respect. The court has power to receive and act upon hearsay evidence. It is commonplace for children to give their accounts in videotaped conversations with specially trained police officers or social workers…. Oral questioning could be arranged in ways which did not involve face to face confrontation. It is not a requirement that the father be able to see her face….

 

In the Camberwell Green Youth Court case (above) Lady Hale explained the background to YJCEA 1999 which aims to deal with the ‘quality of a witness’s evidence’ (s 16(5)). Sections 16 and 17 create three categories of witness who may be eligible for assistance by a special measures direction: first, a witness under 17 is automatically entitled to assistance (s 16(1)(a)). Secondly, s 16(1)(b) deals with incapacitated witnesses (as defined in s 16(2)) and  thirdly, s 17(1) with witnesses effected by ‘fear or distress’. In the last two cases the court must be satisfied that any evidence ‘is likely to be diminished’ by the circumstances of evidence being given. In what follows ‘witness’, by analogy, will include a party (eg child, alleged abuse victim etc) in family proceedings.

 

Family proceedings and the VWCWG

 

Sir James Munby set up the Vulnerable Witnesses and Children Working Group (‘VWCWG’) in mid-June 2014. Six weeks later the Group produced an interim report which recommended a single ‘new mandatory rule [yes, a single rule] … supplemented by practice directions (PD) and guidance…’. The group did not deal with the three aspects of the issues, mentioned at the start of this article, which their brief demanded.

 

By Spring 2015 a further draft report was produced, followed six months later by draft rules (https://consult.justice.gov.uk/digital-communications/draft-amendments-to-family-procedure-rules/supporting_documents/annexachildrenvulnerablewitnessesfprcdraftrule.pdf) which were put out for consultation. And that is as far as this has been taken by Ministry of Justice. The draft rules have yet to be formalised, and a practice direction issued to support them. From Sir James’s statement it seems likely that the Ministry of Justice has now realised that resources issues arise, which were not considered in the VWCWG reports. The Justice Secretary who, we are told, has taken this on must now be aware – as her office should have been, at least two years ago – that state expense will be involved to protect victims (as is the case for those needing protection under YJCEA 1999, Part 2).

 

Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, Part 2

 

If a witness comes within one of the categories in YJCEA 1999 ss 16 or 17 s/he may be eligible for special measures assistance (YJCEA 1999 ss 23-30), including: preventing a witness from seeing a party (YJCEA 1999 s 23); evidence by live link (s 24); hearing a witness’s evidence in private (s 25); video recorded evidence or cross-examination (ss 27 and 28); and questioning a witness through an intermediary (s 29) or device (s 30).

 

In Re W (Children) (Abuse: Oral Evidence) [2010] UKSC 12, [2010] 1 FLR 1485 Lady Hale spoke of the YJCEA 1999 measures and to the way family courts might use them (emphasis added):

 

[28] The family court will have to be realistic in evaluating how effective it can be in maximising the advantage while minimising the harm. There are things that the court can do but they are not things that it is used to doing at present. It is not limited by the usual courtroom procedures or to applying the special measures by analogy…. One possibility is an early video’d cross examination…. Another is cross-examination via video link [or] putting the required questions to her through an intermediary. This could be the court itself, as would be common in continental Europe and used to be much more common than it is now in the courts of this country.

 

Sir James Munby P says he would ‘welcome a bar’ to the ability of ‘alleged perpetrators being able to cross-examine their alleged victims’; but, a lack of ‘primary legislation’ to incur ‘public expenditure’ – ‘a matter for ministers’ – makes law reform impossible. If Lady Hale in the Supreme Court (Re W [2010] (above) and the human rights implications of legal aid legislation (per Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 s 10(3)) are followed, it is questionable whether this is necessarily the case.

 

Lady Hale’s statement in Re W [2010] is authoritative guidance on the current state of the law and the ‘things the court can do’. Measures in YJCEA 1999 ss 23-28 are already largely available for family proceedings. The ‘intermediary’ point creates resources implications which can depend on case management; and case management depends on whether the intermediary or other legal assistance (per YJCEA 1999 s 38(4)) can be provided on legal aid.

 

Legal aid, ‘resources’ questions and a fair trial

 

‘The questions which challenge the child’s account’ must be fairly put to the child, says Lady Hale. This is essential; ‘not that counsel should be able to question her directly’ (Re W [26]). If this is so for a child, does not the same apply for any other vulnerable witness or party?

 

If ‘fair’ questioning is the criterion, then if this cannot be done because of the effects on a witness’s evidence then can it be a fair trial if that evidence is not given through an intermediary, or if an advocate is not instructed per YJCEA 1999 s 36(4) to cross-examine the victim for an alleged abuser acting in person? ‘The court’s only concern in family proceedings’, says Lady Hale in Re A (above) at [36] ‘is to get at the truth.’ The witness – or party in many family proceedings – must be able ‘to give their evidence in the way which best enables the court to assess its reliability’; and, says Lady Hale, ‘it is certainly not to compound any abuse which may have been suffered…’

 

If obtaining the truth does not represent a trial which is fair for the victim, then her (or the child’s) European Convention 1950 Art 6(1) rights are in issue and – means assessment permitting – she may be entitled to legal aid as an exceptional case determination (LASPOA 2012 s 10(3)). If this is correct, many resources questions can be addressed under the present legal aid scheme. No immediate changes to primary legislation would be needed to take protection for victims a long way towards the added protection they need.

 

David Burrows

5 January 2017