Abuse victims 'should never again be questioned in court by abusers'

Mature male judge with hand on back of neck, rear view, close-up

A senior family court judge says victims of abuse should never again be questioned by abusers at trials.

Mr Justice Hayden, who is based in the Family Division of the High Court in London, said in a recent case he had found it "necessary" to allow a woman to be cross-examined by an estranged husband who she said had abused her.

The judge said the process was "inherently and profoundly unfair" and a stain on the reputation of the family justice system.

He said he would not allow it again.

Mr Justice Hayden has outlined his thoughts in a ruling on the case published on Friday.

The judge said the man and woman had been involved in a dispute over a child.

He said the child could not be identified.

"I ... found it extremely disturbing to have been required to watch this woman cross-examined about a period of her life that has been so obviously unhappy and by a man who was the direct cause of her unhappiness," said Mr Justice Hayden.

"She ... was prepared to submit to cross-examination by her husband in order that the case could be concluded.

"She was faced with an invidious choice."

The judge added: "It is a stain on the reputation of our family justice system that a judge can still not prevent a victim being cross-examined by an alleged perpetrator.

"This may not have been the worst or most extreme example but it serves only to underscore that the process is inherently and profoundly unfair.

"I would go further - it is, in itself, abusive.

"For my part, I am simply not prepared to hear a case in this way again.

"I cannot regard it as consistent with my judicial oath and my responsibility to ensure fairness between the parties."

Mr Justice Hayden said the "iniquity" of the situation had first been highlighted by a judge more than a decade ago.

"I understand that there is a real will to address this issue, but it has taken too long," the judge added.

"No victim of abuse should ever again be required to be cross-examined by their abuser in any court, let alone in a family court where protection of children and the vulnerable is central to its ethos."

Mr Justice Hayden said in the recent case the man has cross-examined his estranged wife via a video link.

He said the pair had not been in the same court room.

The woman had been given permission to turn her back to the screen so she did not "have to engage face to face".

Mr Justice Hayden added "(He) barely engaged with (her) allegations of violence, choosing to conduct a case which concentrated on undermining (her) credibility, which ... was largely unsuccessful."