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Lawyers question the treatment of domestic abuse victims in courts

View profile for Jonathan Corbishley
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Law professionals are questioning the treatment of domestic abuse victims within the family court environment and whether or not it provides a safe place for them during court cases.

Judges holding “outdated views” on sexual violence and issues of consent are the major issues, according to a letter which has been signed by 130 lawyers and many other legal professionals.

The catalyst for this opinion was a widely criticised judgment last year by Judge Robin Tolson QC in the family court, in which he ruled that since a woman had not taken physical steps to prevent her partner from assaulting her, he found that it did not constitute rape.

In January 2020, this decision was overturned by the high court, with the judge also suggesting that training may be needed for family court judges when considering such allegations of sexual assault.

Since the ruling, letters of concern or support for the ruling from domestic abuse organisations and family lawyers have asked for Tolson’s current cases to be reviewed.

The letter to the justice secretary, Robert Buckland QC, and the president of the high court’s family division, Sir Andrew McFarlane, has recently been released to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme.

It also claims wider issues such as a lack of understanding of domestic abuse and a failure to apply the practice directions to ensure victims have a fair trial.

It’s most damning line claims: “Increasingly, the courts are no longer seen as a safe place for women who have been abused.”

It is believed that this letter is a damning indictment of the current justice for domestic abuse victims, and charities including the Centre for Women’s Justice and Rights of Women agree.

The letter was initiated by a barrister, Dr Charlotte Proudman, and solicitors Chris McCurley and Jenny Beck, who deal with family court cases, as well as Olive Craig, senior legal officer at Rights of Women.

Having a unique window into such appalling crimes, we can only hope that the furore this letter has caused can start a dialogue which will ensure our courts are a place fit to protect the vulnerable. It is a debate all good family law specialists will follow with great interest.

For further information, please contact Jonathan Corbishley in the family law team on 01246 551000 or email