Tips for running domestic abuse cases
How comfortable do you feel telling your best friend your most personal worries and concerns? Confident? Fairly confident? After all, they are your best friend, they know all about you, don’t they. Or do they?
I’m pretty sure that most of us don’t tell even our best friend about our most embarrassing or hurtful experiences for fear of being judged – or worse. And it won’t come as a surprise to know that this is how most people feel when talking to professionals and their family lawyer when they are the victim of abuse.
At a first meeting, I know I will only be told a small fraction of what my client has experienced. Often they are testing my reaction to see how shocked or judgmental I am before they incrementally tell me more. This can be challenging when I want to know what we term the ‘first, last and worst’ incidents they have experienced, often as quickly and efficiently as possible, whilst still maintaining their trust and confidence.
The client will know that anything they tell me is likely to be put down in black and white and shared with the court and the opponent, after a little support or cajoling by me in the framework of safeguarding and supporting them.
A memory or recollection of any traumatic event varies from person to person. How we recall it is usually based on our previous experience of trauma and how we dealt with it at the time. For some, a distressing incident which was never resolved subsequently impacts on future traumatic experiences which trigger the same feelings or reaction. This affects our recollection of the incident. In addition, our brains also pick and choose which parts of an experience to encode and will often leave out or not encode aspects of an event. This is due to our survival need.
The courts have been aware for a long time that memories are fragile. So when taking instructions from a client, it is important to take time, especially when preparing documents for the court, to allow the client’s memories to come back to them, enabling them to release information, layer by layer, in a safe, supported, and unjudgmental way.
I also find it helpful, if my clients have not already done so, to ask them to engage with additional support services through this process as it can be challenging recalling traumatic events and is often triggering.
Alexandra Boardman, Associate Chartered Legal Executive, The Family Law Company