To attend and give evidence at a Family Court hearing is a daunting prospect for anyone. However, for those who have suffered abuse at the hands of their ex-partner, the stress of attending court will, undoubtedly, be increased. The Family Justice Council, recognising this issue, has published new guidance for courts and legal professionals to follow to help with protecting vulnerable individuals.
Key to the guidance is consultation between the individual, the legal professionals and the Court as to the safest and most appropriate way for evidence to be given to the court, in order to cause as little distress as possible. Even remote video hearings can be distressing. The Court should be provided with the parties’ contact details to enable them to identify the most appropriate way to deal with matters. Those details would be kept private from the other party. Often if the court deems a video hearing to be inappropriate, they may instead arrange a hearing by telephone. If attendance at court is considered necessary, the court will arrange additional measures, such as screens and separate waiting areas.
Victims and perpetrators should never be left alone together. Such a situation can arise after a hearing, where the legal professionals leave before the parties. The guidance reminds both judges and legal professionals that clients should leave first to avoid meeting.
The Court may also allow a supporter to be present, provided the individual does not interfere in the case and prior approval has been given. Having someone at your side can be a great comfort and protection.
When making its decision, the Court is asked to consider, whether this should be orally or in writing. Sometimes court decisions are not what we want to hear.
Whilst a lot of the above is common sense, I am pleased to see that careful consideration has been given to protect the victims of domestic abuse and remote hearings are becoming the norm in family proceedings.