Readers may remember a long-running issue about the fact that in crime, an alleged perpetrator of rape is banned from cross-examining the alleged victim whereas we have ended up in private family law of that being something that is not only not banned but cropping up more and more as an issue, because the Government cut legal aid. Readers might also remember that following a campaign in the Guardian, the Lord Chancellor at that time declared that legislation would be introduced to fix that problem. The draft legislation was drawn up, and then the Government decided to embark on the Greatest Political Idea of All Time TM, in which in order to increase their working majority, they held an election years early and converted said working majority into a hung Parliament.
I’m afraid that I can’t see the draft legislation now for all of the long grass that it is hiding within. Anyone in the Press want to remind the Government that they promised to fix this mess and haven’t?
Apologies in advance for pedants – the law report uses McKenzie Friend and MacKenzie Friend completely interchangeably and nobody in the Court of Appeal seems to have corrected this. It should be Mc, NOT Mac. /Furiously checks document
This is an appeal where the father in a set of private law proceedings was accused of having raped the mother and he denied it. He did not have a lawyer, but did have a McKenzie Friend. Should the McKenzie Friend have been given rights of audience and allowed to cross-examine the mother?
(actually, the sticker should have been one of Duncan’s friends, not Mr McKenzie himself….)
Re J (Children) 2018
- There was no objection to the father having the assistance of a Mackenzie Friend and no objection to the identity of the particular Mackenzie Friend involved who, indeed, the judge described as “obviously a very experienced Mackenzie Friend”. The issue related to what, if any, rights of audience the Mackenzie Friend might be afforded.
- It is now well known that difficulties exist where challenge is made by a litigant in person, who is identified as the perpetrator of serious abuse, and that challenge falls to be put in cross-examination to the key witnesses who support those allegations. The case law on this topic was developing during the currency of the present proceedings and, by July 2015, this court had given judgment in the case of Re K and H (Children)  EWCA Civ 543 which rejected the suggestion that there was jurisdiction in the court to direct that HMCTS, or indeed any other agency, should provide public funding for limited legal representation. HHJ Allweis noted that decision and rehearsed the key details of it in his short judgment. He noted that ‘the case is a difficult one in which, in extremely broad terms, the parents make serious allegations against each other’. He focused upon the application for rights of audience for his McKenzie Friend made by this father in these proceedings at paragraph 15 of that judgment in these terms:
- “15. The idea of a McKenzie Friend, however articulate and experienced, either cross-examining a parent accusing a partner of serious sexual violence or indeed serious physical violence, or even of cross-examining the parties’ 16 year old child if in due course X gives evidence against his father, is highly unpalatable and this court would be very disturbed by that prospect. [The McKenzie Friend] has suggested that he has been given rights of audience frequently by judges and I pressed him as to whether this had ever happened in Greater Manchester. In effect he said that it had not and that there may be geographical differences. I told him in no uncertain terms that I have never come across it in Greater Manchester and this court, of course, is one of the busiest, if not the busiest, family court in the country.”
- The judge then reminded himself of the relevant practice guidance on McKenzie Friends ( 2 FLR 962), in which the President, at paragraph 4, states that McKenzie Friends may not, inter alia, “address the court, make oral submissions or examine witnesses”.
- The judge refused the application saying:
- “19. At the end of the day, for the reasons I have given, the application is refused. I contemplate with profound disquiet, and that is putting it pretty mildly if I may say so, the prospect of a McKenzie Friend, in effect with rights of audience, cross-examining a mother in relation to serious and complex allegations, let alone a teenage child of the parties if and when X gives evidence so the application is refused.”
What ended up happening in the case is that the finding of fact hearing never took place, because of the anxieties the Court had about how the mother could be questioned about these events. By the conclusion of the private law proceedings, the children were expressing very strong views about their father
- The judge provided an extensive summary of the NYAS worker’s report which recorded that the children were “extremely loyal to their mother” and adamantly against contact. So far as A is concerned the judge said:
- ‘A gave [NYAS worker] a statement he had prepared and said no-one had read. He would be delighted to give evidence against his father. Despite what he said, it appeared later in the report that the children, which really means A and B, had written at the suggestion of their mother acting on advice from her solicitor. … What I do note is that A’s statement … even assuming that what A was saying factually was true, is a very disturbing document to read. It has the imprint of his mother’ accusations. However, even allowing for the possibility of him imbibing unquestioningly all his mother had said, he nevertheless presents as an intelligent and fiercely independent young man’.
The judgment continues by describing the content of the statement the force of A’s negative opinion of the father that is expressed within it, before recording the judge’s overall opinion that the statement
‘is an extremely distressing read – I am not sure I have seen such a vitriolic condemnation of a parent by a teenager for many a long year.’
- The judge’s detailed summary of the children’s wishes and feelings, as described by the NYAS worker, continued by setting out B’s wishes, which were in line with his older brother. The youngest child, C, was also ‘clear that she did not want to see’ her father. The judge’s account of her wishes includes the following:
- ‘She wrote that she wanted all the bad things dad had caused to go away. She wished they had never gone to the refuge and she wished she did not have nightmares about dad. She did not want to see him EVER (ever in capital letters). No-one could drag her kicking and screaming to see her father. On the second visit she was even more emotional and angry.’
At the Court of Appeal, the father had the assistance of his McKenzie Friend and the Court of Appeal were complimentary about the help that the McKenzie Friend had given to the Court.
- For some time now the Court of Appeal has normally granted rights of audience to a bona fide McKenzie Friend. The experience of doing so has been very largely positive in that those McKenzie Friends who have taken on the role of advocate have done so in a manner which has assisted both the court and the individual litigant, as, indeed, was the case in the present appeal. Although it may have become the norm at this appellate level to grant rights of audience, that should not greatly impact upon the altogether different issue of rights of audience at first instance, particularly in a fully contested hearing. Assisting a litigant to marshal and present arguments on appeal is a wholly different task from acting in the role of counsel in a trial.
The Court of Appeal recognised the vexed issues that this case threw up.
- Direct questioning of an alleged victim by the alleged perpetrator has long been considered to be a highly undesirable prospect by family judges. It was contemplation of that process which led Roderic Wood J to flag the problem up in the first place in H v L & R. In Q v Q and in Re K and H, the need to look for alternative acceptable means for cross examination led to the court sanctioning orders against HMCTS. It is clear that the experience of those judges who have felt forced to permit direct questioning from an alleged abuser is extremely negative. In very recent times Hayden J, in Re A (above) has concluded that, following his experience in that case, he is not prepared to contemplate repeating the process in any subsequent case. Hayden J’s clear and eloquent observations deserve wide publication:
- ’57. As I have made clear above it was necessary, in this case, to permit F to conduct cross examination of M directly. A number of points need to be highlighted. Firstly, F was not present in the Courtroom but cross examined by video link. Secondly, M requested and I granted permission for her to have her back to the video screen in order that she did not have to engage face to face with F. Thirdly, F barely engaged with M’s allegations of violence, choosing to conduct a case which concentrated on undermining M’s credibility (which as emerges above was largely unsuccessful).
58. Despite these features of the case, I have found it extremely disturbing to have been required to watch this woman cross examined about a period of her life that has been so obviously unhappy and by a man who was the direct cause of her unhappiness. M is articulate, educated and highly motivated to provide a decent life for herself and her son. She was represented at this hearing by leading and junior counsel and was prepared to submit to cross examination by her husband in order that the case could be concluded. She was faced with an invidious choice.
59. Nothing of what I have said above has masked the impact that this ordeal has had on her. She has at times looked both exhausted and extremely distressed. M was desperate to have the case concluded in order that she and A could effect some closure on this period of their lives and leave behind the anxiety of what has been protracted litigation.
60. It is a stain on the reputation of our Family Justice system that a Judge can still not prevent a victim being cross examined by an alleged perpetrator. This may not have been the worst or most extreme example but it serves only to underscore that the process is inherently and profoundly unfair. I would go further it is, in itself, abusive. For my part, I am simply not prepared to hear a case in this way again. I cannot regard it as consistent with my judicial oath and my responsibility to ensure fairness between the parties.’
- Hayden J’s words demand respect, both because they come for a highly experienced family lawyer and judge, but also because of the force with which they were expressed following immediately upon first-hand experience of observing an alleged victim being directly cross examined by her alleged perpetrator and despite the significant degree of protection the court had sought to provide for her.
In deciding whether the Judge was wrong to refuse the McKenzie Friend rights of audience to conduct the cross-examination of the mother, the Court of Appeal decided that he was not
- In between the option of direct questioning from the alleged abuser and the alternative of questioning by the judge sits the possibility of affording rights of audience to an alleged abuser’s McKenzie Friend so that he or she may conduct the necessary cross examination. The possibility of a McKenzie Friend acting as an advocate is not referred to in PD12J and, as has already been noted, the guidance on McKenzie Friends advises that, generally, courts should be slow to afford rights of audience. For my part, in terms of the spectrum of tasks that may be undertaken by an advocate, cross examination of a witness in the circumstances upon which this judgment is focussed must be at the top end in terms of sensitivity and importance; it is a forensic process which requires both skill and experience of a high order. Whilst it will be a matter for individual judges in particular cases to determine an application by a McKenzie Friend for rights of audience in order to cross examine in these circumstances, I anticipate that it will be extremely rare for such an application to be granted.
- For the reasons that were given earlier, if the complaint in Ground ‘B’ is that the McKenzie Friend should have been permitted rights of audience in order to cross examine the mother and A, I do not consider that the judge’s decision is open to challenge on any basis. Such an application should rarely, if ever, be granted. The material before us falls short of establishing that there was a blanket policy in place in Manchester prohibiting the grant of rights of audience to McKenzie Friends to cross examine key witnesses. If the judge’s observations are no more than a report that, from his knowledge, such an application had never been granted in Manchester, then, on the basis of the view that I have expressed, that would not be surprising.
- If, on the other hand, the judge can be taken to have refused any rights of audience to the McKenzie Friend, on the basis that the local practice was never to grant any form of rights of audience, then, again for the reasons that I have given, the judge was in error. Each application for rights of audience should be determined on the basis of the specific factors that are in play in the individual case. Rights of audience may be granted for a particular hearing, or for a discrete part of a particular hearing, and a blanket policy of never granting such rights is not supported by the Practice Guidance or generally. Whilst it will be rare for full advocacy rights to be granted at a sensitive fact-finding trial, it may be an altogether different matter to permit a McKenzie Friend to address the court at a directions hearing.
The Court of Appeal did, however, find that the Court was wrong not to have resolved the factual dispute between the parties at a finding of fact hearing. The appeal succeeded on that basis.
However, it was a pyrrhic victory, because the Court of Appeal ruled that because the children were still of the same strong views about contact as they had been 18 months earlier they saw no prospect of father re-establishing any contact (the children were now 16 and 11) and did not order a re-hearing.