More lawyers sought to stop domestic abusers interrogating victims

Hundreds of lawyers signed up to be Qualified Legal Representatives after the landmark Domestic Abuse Act banned abusers from interrogating their victims in family and civil courts.

Cross-examination is, instead, carried out by these court-appointed legal professionals, to ensure that justice is done fairly for both sides and reduce the risk of victims being retraumatised.

To encourage more lawyers to join, they will now be able to claim for travel to hearings up and down the country. Previously no expenses were available but lawyers will now be able to claim up to £180 for their travel and up to £161 per day for other expenses, including hotel stays and food. Minister for Victims and Safeguarding, Laura Farris, said:

“It takes unimaginable strength to bring your abuser to court which is why our Domestic Abuse Act provides vital protections, preventing vile ex-partners from cross-examining those they have tormented.

Today’s changes will incentivise more legal professionals to take up these important roles ensuring no victim feels unsafe in the pursuit of justice.”

Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, said:

“In my Family Court report I called for greater funding for the Qualified Legal Representative scheme, and I am delighted that government have committed to this today.

I hope to see an uptake following this announcement, and look forward to continuing my work with government to improve the Family Court’s response to domestic abuse.”

The measures in the Act followed concerns that domestic abuse perpetrators were using the process as a means of extending their abuse and victims were being retraumatised by their experiences in family and civil court. Full details of the expenses policy will be set out in guidance when the policy comes into force on 2nd January 2024.

To make it as easy as possible for domestic abuse victims to bring their attackers to court, the government has pledged an additional £25 million per year to expand legal aid so victims on universal credit seeking a protective order for themselves or their children against their attackers can access legal aid funding without facing a means test.

This followed recommendations made by the ‘Harm Panel’ to better safeguard vulnerable people against domestic abuse in family courts. Other changes the government has introduced in response to the report include:

  • pioneering pilot at family courts in North Wales and Dorset to improve information sharing between agencies such as the police, local authorities and the courts and give a greater voice to children at every stage of the process.
  • automatic special measures for victims such as protective screens and giving evidence via video link
  • clarifying the law on ‘barring orders’, to prevent perpetrators from bringing their ex-partners back to court, which can be used as a form of continuing domestic abuse.

Lucy Hadley, head of policy at Women’s Aid, commented:

“We are pleased that the Government has listened to our concerns about the Qualified Legal Representatives scheme, outlined in a joint letter we sent earlier this year. We raised serious concerns about the implementation of this policy and the low numbers of legal representatives signing up to it. A lack of lawyers undertaking this role has meant that despite cross-examination being banned in the Domestic Abuse Act, survivors have continued to face it in family courts.

We hope that the introduction of travel expenses will enable more lawyers to come forward. Despite this, issues remain with the training provided and whether the fees that QLRs get for this role are competitive. We need to see robust monitoring and evaluation of how the ban on cross-examination is working to ensure survivors are protected from this horrific practice.” 

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