Newcastle’s Top Divorce and Family Law Specialist, Joanne Major states a violent courtroom incident in which a man attacked his wife and was restrained by the judge has heightened concerns about court security as more litigants appear without legal representation.
The fight broke out during a hearing at Southend County Court last week, shortly after the judge had started delivering her judgement on residence and contact arrangements for the couple’s child. The father, not represented by a lawyer, walked across the court and turned on his wife, repeatedly punching her in the head. She suffered severe bruising.
Lawyers, court officials and the judge all joined in efforts to stop the attack. The father was eventually restrained, removed from court and arrested. He is due to appear at a crown court for sentencing later this month.
The case is viewed so seriously by judicial authorities that the man is also to be brought to London to appear before the president of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, on 23rd October 2013, to face contempt of court proceedings.
Legal aid for most family cases was withdrawn in April as a cost-saving measure and the number of parties representing themselves is increasing. Family judges have raised concerns about security in court and their fears of being attacked by angry parents. Many family lawyers warn also that without legal representation more unrepresented litigants will cause delays and disruption to court proceedings.
Lord Neuberger, president of the Supreme Court, has cautioned that cuts to legal aid could lead to people “taking the law into their own hands” although perhaps he did not envisage this to be in the courtroom itself.