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Monday, 30 April 2018

Concern after woman appears in family court with ex-partner she accused of rape

Written by Brian Farmer

A judge has raised concerns after a woman had to appear in the same family court as an ex-partner she had accused of raping her.

District Judge Simon Read said the pair had become embroiled in a dispute over their daughter.

He said both had appeared at a private family court hearing in Middlesbrough "in person" because neither could afford a lawyer and neither was eligible for legal aid.

Their dispute had centred on when the little girl - who, the judge indicated, lived with her mother - should see her father.

The judge said he had asked questions rather than having the woman question the man and the man question the woman.

He said the woman had unexpectedly stopped giving evidence and walked out of court as questions reached allegations of a "sexual nature".

Judge Read said he had a number of concerns about what had happened and said he feared that any abuse suffered by the woman might have been prolonged.

He has outlined his worries in a written ruling and has not identified anyone involved.

"Neither parent could afford a lawyer, and neither was eligible for legal aid," said the judge.

"I found this surprising in the mother's case in particular, given that I was told that she was dependent entirely on state benefits and yet failed the means test, despite the nature of the case."

He said he had little doubt that the "process" would have been different if the pair had been represented by lawyers.

"There is always the fear in the mind of the court that the questioning of an alleged victim about their abuse merely prolongs that abuse by other means," he said.

"I think that fear is borne out here."

The judge was also worried that the man might have thought he had won.

Ten months ago one of the UK's most famous barristers raised concerns about family court judges having to question victims of abuse because alleged abusers could not get legal aid.

Michael Mansfield QC (pictured) suggested that legislation governing the provision of legal aid was not compatible with human rights law. Mr Mansfield said victims' rights to a fair trial might be infringed if they had to be questioned by a judge acting as a barrister. He also said the perception of judicial impartiality was under threat if judges have to take on a barrister's role.

Mr Mansfield outlined his concern to a judge at a private hearing in the Family Division of the High Court in London in June. He was representing a woman embroiled in a dispute over access to children with an ex-partner she said abused her.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Victoria Jones / PA Wire.