A family judge has publicly criticised the lack of funding for a woman alleging rape and sexual assault against her ex-husband, suggesting it may have resulted in a miscarriage of justice.
The family court at Middlesbrough heard details of 10 harrowing allegations from the woman in a case to decide what contact her 10-year-old daughter should have with the father.
Both parties in JY v RY were unrepresented, leaving the court to prepare makeshift bundles, each litigant to prepare their own questions for cross-examination, and an alleged victim of domestic abuse with no moral and practical support in court. After some time in the witness box she stopped giving evidence, saying she could not continue.
District Judge Read expressed surprise that the mother in particular, who is dependent on state benefits, had failed the means test and was not eligible for legal aid. The judge said the system had left the mother in a position where she had to produce a list of questions for the man she alleged had abused her.
Read said: ‘The lack of legal representation gravely affected the fairness and efficiency of the process of questioning both parents.[I was] reluctant to be seen to step into the arena myself. Ours is an adversarial not an inquisitorial or judge-led legal system; judges have neither the training, tradition nor natural inclination to subject witnesses to detailed questioning.’
The judge said no criminal court would have allowed proceedings to continue in this way without representation for both parties.
Read found allegations of assault by the father against the mother and an older son proved, along with aggressive and abusive behavior by the father to her while on holiday. But the judge could not find allegations of rape, sexual assault and abusive behavior to the youngest children proven.
Read noted: ‘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.’
The judge said the court must now decide to what extent the father's contact time with his daughter should be supervised.