Lawyers Are Calling For Family Court Judges To Be Retrained On The Meaning Of Consent

'The courts are no longer seen as a safe place for women.'

Judge in court

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

Lawyers and women’s rights groups have called for family court judges to be trained on the ‘meaning of consent’. This comes after one judge, Judge Tolson, dismissed a woman’s rape claim because she had done ‘nothing physically to stop the alleged perpetrator'.

Over 130 lawyers and groups such as Rape Crisis England and Wales, Women’s Aid and the Centre for Women’s Justice signed the joint letter, addressed to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and family courts president Sir Andrew McFarlane.

It states that since the Judge Tolson case was brought to light by the media, a number of women have contacted the signatories of the letter to share similar experiences with the judge and many others with similar attitudes.

‘Increasingly, the courts are no longer seen as a safe place for women who have been abused,’ it reads. ’Their concerns have included attitudes about sexual violence as seen in [the Judge Tolson case], professional assessment of abusive parents being disregarded without reason and failure to provide special measures during hearings.’

Tolson presided over a custody case in which a man was requesting to be allowed to spend time with his son, who was in the care of his mother. She objected on the basis that the father was controlling and alleged he had raped her. Tolson ruled that because the woman ‘was not in any sense pinned down’, she ‘could easily, physically, have made life harder’ for the man and so it ‘did not constitute rape’.

The mother lost her legal battle and later argued the judge’s attitude was the reason. She has since appealed the ruling over its handling which has been upheld by a High Court judge, Ms Justice Russell, who has ordered a fresh case to be held.

Justice Russell also said that specialist training was needed for family-court judges when dealing with sexual assault allegations. Today’s letter has asked for these recommendations to go further.

There is a lack of understanding of domestic abuse and serious sexual assault.

‘There are wider systemic issues, including some lack of understanding of domestic abuse and serious sexual assault and a failure to apply the practice directions to afford victims a fair trial,’ the letter reads. ‘This is despite training and clear rules.’

Stating that the current system ‘leaves children and women at risk of serious harm’, it calls for ‘appropriately trained domestic-abuse champions [to be present] in each family court’ as well as specialised training on the meaning of consent and free will plus more accountability for judges.

The UK Judiciary has said it has since made a commitment to further training. ‘Prior to the delivery of the appeal judgment [in the Judge Tolson case], the president of the Family Division had asked the Judicial College to provide additional bespoke training in dealing with cases of sexually related assault for judges trying domestic abuse cases in the Family Court,’ its statement read.

‘The enhanced training will be delivered - initially electronically - from May 2020 and from then on will be included in every continuation training course for the Family judiciary,’ it continued – adding that family-court judges will be given training ‘similar to that which is already given to criminal judges who hear serious sexual criminal trails’.

Read More:

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'I Had To Watch The Man I Believed Had Raped Me Walk Free From Court'

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