In a case which highlighted the impact of legal aid cuts on the family justice system, a teenager who faced being cross-examined in court by a man accused of sexually abusing her will instead be questioned by a lawyer following a judge’s decision that HM Courts and Tribunal Service (HMCTS) must foot the bill.
The girl’s claims were vehemently denied by the man, who was a father to two young children. The police had decided to take no action against him, but proceedings were on foot in the Family Court relating to the impact of the teenager’s allegations on his future contact with his children.
Because the father earned slightly more than the legal aid limit of £733 a month, he would not qualify for state funding at a fact-finding hearing at which the teenager’s claims were to be tested. He had no wish to question the girl himself but was unable to afford a lawyer to take on that necessary task. A children’s advocate had stated that the teenager would be exposed to emotional harm if the father were permitted to cross-examine her.
The judge ruled that that such questioning would be ‘inappropriate’ and, in order to fill the funding gap, took the unusual step of appointing a legally qualified advocate – to be paid for by HMCTS – to cross-examine the teenager on the father’s behalf.