The Family Court is to be issued with new guidance on how to deal with vulnerable witnesses and children.
Family law is an inherently emotional area of law and a great many of those coming to court are in an emotionally vulnerable state, not to mention those who have suffered physical or emotional abuse at the hands of a partner or family member. There is also now a greater emphasis on the court directly taking the views of children on issues that affect them where the child is old enough to make them known. So it is a welcome step that judges are being asked to look closer at how they, and the court system, interact with vulnerable people.
The President of the Family Division, the judge who heads up the Family Court, Sir James Munby set up a working group to look specifically at the issue. The group’s interim report found that the family justice system ‘lags woefully behind’ the criminal justice system in how it deals with vulnerable court users.
The group recommended that procedures used in the criminal courts be adapted for use in the Family Court. These would require judges to identify vulnerable parties in a case and to put in place assistance for that party.
The report called on an extra level of consideration to be given to those who have experienced particularly traumatic situations such as female genital mutilation and forced marriage
The guidance is to be circulated in Autumn 2014 with changes to the Family Procedure Rules to complement the guidance being planned for early 2015.