Yesterday, Hove MP Peter Kyle urged the government to finally outlaw the cross-examination of abuse victims in family courts by perpetrators.
In a House of Commons debate Mr Kyle urged ministers to make sure that the long-awaited Domestic Abuse Bill was carried over to the next parliamentary session.
Mr Kyle said that survivors of domestic abuse “have been waiting for 25 years, and indeed for much longer, but for the past three years, the government have been promising to outlaw cross-examination by perpetrators of domestic violence”.
He said: “People have waited for so long, so will he now give a commitment that this bill will be seen through before the House is prorogued once more? If it was not, that would be the final straw for many very vulnerable people.”
Justice Secretary Robert Buckland said that the bill would be carried over to the next parliamentary session and allowed to progress.
Mr Kyle has been campaigning on this issue since he was first elected in 2015 after a constituent at one of his surgeries told him of her horrific experience of being cross-examined. Mr Kyle spoke about this in yesterday’s debate and pressed for no further delays.
He said: “I was made very aware of the problem of cross-examination by perpetrators of domestic violence when a woman came to see me at a surgery soon after I became a Member of Parliament.
“She had suffered so much abuse — she had been raped multiple times, she had been knocked unconscious and she had been hospitalised more than a dozen times — but the perpetrator of those crimes, from prison, summoned her to the family court on three separate occasions.
“She told me that on the third occasion she had to ask the taxi driver to stop on the way home so she could vomit in the gutter because of the experience of being cross-examined by the perpetrator of the crimes against her.
“She told me that if she was summoned a fourth time, she would capitulate and give him whatever he wanted. She was broken, not just by the criminal who raped and abused her, but by the system that allowed her to be cross-examined by him, and that allowed the abuse to continue under the nose of judges, and in front of police — the very people the state appoints to support and protect women like her.”
Mr Kyle also said that almost three years had passed since the government first committed to outlawing cross-examination.
In response to his urgent question, he said: “After a huge campaign, both from members from across the House and in the media, the government finally gave way and agreed to make a change.
“I credit Mr Speaker with granting me an urgent question on the subject in January 2017, almost three years ago, at which the government relented for the first time and promised to change the law.”
Sir Oliver Heald, then Minister for Courts and Justice, said in reply: “This sort of cross-examination is illegal in the criminal courts and I am determined to see it banned in family courts too. Work is being done at a great pace … the urgency is there.”
Mr Kyle said: “That is important. The woman I mentioned cried with joy at the news that there would be a change. In her words, she felt liberated — a weight had been lifted from her shoulders.
“However, we must recognise the scale of the suffering that there has been since the government gave that commitment almost three years ago. While we celebrate the bill finally being brought in, there has been much suffering as a result of the delays.”
To read the full debate, click here.
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