Brecon and Radnorshire MP Fay Jones is lobbying the Government to consider changes in the family courts after a harrowing constituent case.
Ms Jones used a speech in the Judicial Review and Courts debate to highlight flaws in the existing system after a young mother described her appalling treatment in the system.
She highlighted the work that the Government has already done in the field of Domestic Abuse. As a member of the Domestic Abuse Bill Committee, Ms Jones welcomed reforms to family proceedings which introduced an automatic ban on cross-examination in person when one party has been convicted of, given a caution for or charged with certain offences against the witness, or vice versa.
But after meeting with Natalie Davies, who gave her permission for her case to be raised in Parliament, Ms Jones was keen for further reforms to be introduced.
Fay explained that while the conclusion reached by the judge was in Natalie’s favour, her experience in the family court was completely unacceptable. In Natalie’s own words, it was a “complete misery”. Fay told MPs that the way in which she was treated by the judge was simply wrong for a modern age. Natalie claims that she was repeatedly undermined throughout her case, which caused her immense distress, and she felt as though a completely one-sided approach was taken. Her barrister later confirmed that the judge had to be persuaded to read both sides of the case. During her hearing, the judge referred to her as “young lady” and commented on the fact that she was “already”—his word—expecting a baby with her new partner. He also googled her home and searched for images of her new home on Rightmove.
Natalie complained to the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office, as is proper, but she had no response, until two days before a further hearing with the same judge. She was hastily told that her complaint had been rejected. She was told that no misconduct had taken place. Had the judge fallen asleep, that would constitute misconduct, but patronising—even misogynistic—remarks and apparent predetermination on the part of the individual somehow did not constitute misconduct.
Those who seek the direction of the courts should have access to a clear and transparent complaints system. Natalie’s complaint was backed up with a written statement by her highly trained barrister, and yet it was still dismissed out of hand. This cannot be right. The Family Courts should have a stronger route of complaint so that decisions and best practice can be consistently reviewed.
Ms Jones will now meet the Minister, Lord Wolfson, to discuss her suggestions for reform further.
Fay’s speech can be read in full on Hansard: https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2021-10-26/debates/273F4D6A-291D-4A73-8D7B-D6BE51F8448E/JudicialReviewAndCourtsBill#contribution-66C1E651-62F9-438A-B8B6-A829E9F39FB0
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