Family judge criticises legal aid system after victim of domestic abuse left alone in court without support
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A woman who alleges that she was raped and sexually assaulted by her ex-husband has been left alone in court without legal representation or support to face her alleged abuser, in another distressing example of the crisis in the justice system caused by cuts to legal aid funding.
The woman’s plight prompted the judge presiding over her case to criticise the system which found her to be ineligible for legal aid, even though she is dependent on state benefits and an alleged victim of severe domestic abuse. District Judge Read warned that the lack of representation for both parties, but particularly the alleged victim, could have resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
The case at Middlesbrough family court concerned what level of contact the woman’s 10-year-old daughter should have with her father, the alleged abuser. Both litigants were found ineligible for legal aid, meaning that the woman had to prepare her own questions for the cross-examination of her alleged abuser, and vice versa. The Law Gazette reports that with no moral or practical support available to her, the woman attempted to give evidence from the witness box but had to stop as she felt unable to continue.
The judge was subsequently unable to find the woman’s allegations of assault by her ex-husband against her youngest children proved, although he did find sufficient proof to uphold the allegations of assault by the father against the mother and an older child.
Read said: “There is a very strong likelihood that the outcome of the fact finding would have been different, and most probably a truer reflection of what really happened, had the parents been represented. It would surely have concluded sooner, more fairly, and at far less expense to the public purse than ultimately was the case, with two wasted days at court.”