Response to speech by Sir James Munby on family justice

Sir James Munby, (lately President of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice of England and Wales) recently gave a speech on the topic of reforms to the family courts.

We welcome Sir James’ call for an end to cross-examination by alleged perpetrators of their alleged victims. We also welcome his recommendation that better special measures must be incorporated in every family court building and made available to all vulnerable witnesses. We share his hope that all these issues will be addressed by the forthcoming Domestic Abuse Bill.

It is also positive that he reiterates the need for “strict compliance” with Practice Direction 12J, though we fear that, until the majority of its provisions are made statutory, the approach of some judges is unlikely to change. It will be difficult to overturn the myths and stereotypes around domestic abuse which are still apparent in many court rooms, without a mandatory cultural change programme for the judiciary and court officials which shares good practice and helps increase understanding.

Scotland recently implemented such training for judges and sheriffs, alongside the roll out of its recent domestic abuse legislation. It is therefore heartening that Sir James also agrees that judges should receive training on domestic and sexual abuse. We hope that the Family Courts Review instigated by the Ministry of Justice brings forward proposals which echo his recommendations