The President of the Family Division has issued a circular dealing with domestic abuse and containing a new Practice Direction (PD) 12J of the Family Procedure Rules 2010, which came into force on 2 October 2017. The purpose of the Practice Direction is to set out what the Court is required to do in any case in which it is alleged or admitted, or there is other reason to believe, that the child or a party has experienced domestic abuse perpetrated by another party or that there is a risk of such abuse.

Reference is made in the practice direction to ‘Domestic Abuse’ rather than ‘Domestic Violence’ and crucially the definition has been extended to include psychological, physical, sexual, financial, emotional, or culturally specific abuse.

The updated practice direction is informed by a report the President commissioned from Mr Justice Cobb in 2016, the findings of which have been reviewed by the Family Justice Council and the Family Procedure Rule Committee. Munby said the new PD12J “will require further adjustment if and when the proposed legislation restricting cross-examination of alleged victims by alleged perpetrators is enacted”. However, he added: “We cannot await that. Hence my decision to proceed without further delay”.

Despite acknowledging the additional burden imposed on judges and court staff, he said: “there is good reason for making these requirements mandatory and they must be complied with”. He urged all judges to familiarise themselves with the new PD12J and to do everything possible to ensure that it is properly complied with on every occasion and without fail by everyone to whom it applies.

Munby added domestic abuse in all its many forms, and whether directed at women, at men, or at children, continues, more than 40 years after the enactment of the Domestic Violence and Matrimonial Proceedings Act 1976, to be a “scourge on our society”. “Judges and everyone else in the family system need to be alert to the problems and appropriately focused on the available remedies. PD12J plays a vital part”.

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