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Family Law

The leading authority on all aspects of family law

24 JUN 2013

EVIDENCE: Re A (Vulnerable Witness) [2013] EWHC 1694 (Fam)

(Family Division, Pauffley J, 17 June 2013)

In long-running proceedings a young woman made sexual abuse allegations against the father and as a result contact between the father and his child had been suspended. Since judgment in the case was given in the Supreme Court: Re A (Sexual Abuse: Disclosure) [2012] UKSC 60, [2013] 1 FLR 948, a number of interim directions had been made including for contact between the child and her father. A report had been obtained from a consultant forensic psychiatrist regarding the, now 21-year-old, young woman's psychiatric state, her mental health and special measures which may assist her to give evidence as well as the likely effects upon her of giving evidence.

The young woman was resistant to her continuing involvement in court proceedings and she did not agree with the suggestion that the instruction of an intermediary such as Communicourt would assist her in giving evidence. The psychiatrist's report opined that a requirement to give evidence may increase the young woman's depression and suicidality and that she may experience an increase in post traumatic reliving experiences but the concluding sentence added that both giving and not giving evidence ran the risk of making her intra-psychic conflict worse as both had potential negative consequences for the wider family. There was an additional risk that if her health deteriorated she may lose her university place which was of great importance to her.

In circumstances where there was no right answer for the young woman the balance fell in favour of devising a set of circumstances in which she could be assisted to give a personal contribution to the hearing via the involvement of a highly experienced intermediary from Communicourt.

The judge reiterated her interest in ensuring the welfare of the young woman and that she would be constantly on alert to ensure fairness, relevance, clarity of purpose and adequate protection. It was entirely likely that specific protective measures would be put in place and a myriad of possibilities existed so as to afford her proper protection.


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