A senior judge presiding over a family court in Milton Keynes was hospitalised following an assault by a self-represented litigant.
The incident occurred on Wednesday morning, with details of the attack and the nature of the case being heard remaining undisclosed. The assailant has admitted guilt to three charges, including assault causing actual bodily harm, criminal damage, and causing intentional harassment. Sentencing is scheduled for a later date at Southwark Crown Court.
The judge received hospital treatment and is currently recuperating at home, receiving support and counselling from senior colleagues. This incident has sparked alarm among the legal community, with the Family Law Bar Association (FLBA) expressing its shock and concern over the safety risks to legal professionals.
Hannah Markham, the FLBA’s chair, remarked on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that such assaults are rare, with no similar incidents in the last 40 years. She emphasised the unpredictability and challenges of handling emotionally charged situations in courtrooms. Family courts often deal with sensitive issues like child custody and domestic abuse, and an increase in self-representation, partly due to legal aid cuts, has heightened tensions in these settings.
Data reveals a significant decrease in the number of people with legal representation in private law cases, from nearly 61,000 out of 100,000 in 2011 to just under 33,000 in 2022. In response to the assault, the FLBA stresses the necessity of adequate security for everyone in court, including judges, advocates, and families. Despite rigorous entry searches, the lack of visible security inside and near courtrooms has been noted. Nagalro’s Chair, Yvonne Wilson, a children’s guardian in the London family courts said:
“I am aware that professionals working within the Family Court settings are at times anxious and concerned for their own personal safety whilst undertaking their professional duties. Many have expressed concern that they could be identified and consequently targeted. Personal safety is a particular concern for those working on their own, particularly when undertaking visits in the community. Safety is and should be a matter of concern requiring urgent attention for all those involved in public and private law cases and irrespective of their individual role and position in the proceedings.”
The incident has prompted an urgent review of court security by HM Courts and Tribunals Service. A spokesperson stated that ministers are in close contact with the affected judge and emphasised the rarity of such incidents, affirming their commitment to the safety of judges and court staff.