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Protections for Victims of Domestic Abuse in Virtual Hearings

The Family Justice Council Domestic Abuse Working Group has just published guidance about what the court needs to consider when dealing with cases in which domestic abuse has been proved or is raised as an issue.

Here are some key points.

  • Victims of domestic abuse should always be consulted as to the format of the hearing, via their legal representative if they have one. The court then decides if the hearing should be in a courtroom in person, by telephone or video. This includes consideration of how any child’s welfare needs will be met, before, during and after a hearing.
  • If your needs cannot be met, the court must consider what form of risk reduction can take place? The consultation needs to be well in advance of the hearing – contact details need to be with the Judge at least 48 hours before a hearing in order that a proper decision can be made.
  • It is essential that the format for the hearing and the link are sent in good time to avoid stress to the participants. Email and telephone addresses MUST be kept private.
  • A domestic abuse victim and a perpetrator must never be left alone together which means the order of joining and ending the hearing is done so that cannot happen.
  • A perpetrator should not be allowed to see into a victim’s private space and nor should a victim have to see a perpetrator. Therefore, the court can allow participation with the video turned off as appropriate.

A victim may not need to attend a hearing if it is one where no evidence is given and they are represented.

  • Provision for special measures should be included in a case plan when a hearing is going to be a “hybrid” one (when some participants come to court and others do not).
  • The court must warn parties that any recording or the taking of photographs or “screen grabs” is not only illegal but may constitute harassment.
  • The court should normally allow either party to be accompanied by a “supporter” whether a legal person or not.
  • Courts must carefully consider how they deliver decisions and how they can be understood bearing in mind parties may be separate from their lawyer at the time or may not have one.
  • Care must be taken as to urgent without notice hearings and they may need to be dealt with on the papers only due to the victim maybe not in a safe place where they can speak freely.

The full report is here:

https://www.judiciary.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/Safety-from-Domestic-Abuse- and-Special-Measures-in-Remote-and-Hybrid-Hearings-Family-Justice-Council- guidance.pdf

Thank you to Joanna Toch of Family Law Cafe

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