Judge taken to hospital after family court assault

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By Sanchia Berg
BBC Radio 4 Today programme

A senior family court judge was treated in hospital after being assaulted by a man whose case he was hearing.

The attacker was representing himself in court in Milton Keynes and did not have a lawyer.

Details of the attack on Wednesday morning have not been released and it is not known what kind of case the judge was hearing.

The man has since pleaded guilty to three offences and will be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court at a later date.

Those offences are one count of assault of a person, thereby causing actual bodily harm, one count of criminal damage and one count of causing intentional harassment, alarm or distress.

The judge was taken to hospital for treatment and is now recovering at home. He is being supported by senior colleagues and has been offered counselling.

Barristers’ group ‘shocked’ by attack

The Family Law Bar Association, or FLBA, which represents barristers in family proceedings, said members were “shocked” by the attack.

It said the assault highlighted the risks faced by judges and barristers.

Family courts hear both public law cases, where children may be removed from their families, and private law cases, where parents are separating.

They decide cases involving families’ most private lives, ruling on where children should live and what degree of contact parents should have.

They have the power to remove children from their birth parents, so they live with other relatives or with foster carers, and can order them to be placed for adoption.

There are frequently allegations of violence, marital rape, sexual and domestic abuse.

Rise in people representing themselves

Cuts to legal aid mean that more people are representing themselves in private law cases.

Government data shows that in 2011, nearly 61,000 people had lawyers, out of the almost 100,000 people involved in new private law cases. By 2022, that number had shrunk to just under 33,000 out of nearly 100,000 people.

The FLBA said “robust and proper security” was vital for all court users, the families, the judges and the advocates.

The association said it was rare to have security in court, or in the corridors outside.

BBC Correspondents became familiar with the security in local family courts during reporting under the Transparency Pilot this year,

There is a thorough search process at the main front door, but no guards are visible in the corridors or outside the courtrooms themselves.

The FLBA suggested that where there were serious allegations, or where family members or lawyers considered a case “high risk” then the court service could provide either security inside or close to the courtroom.

A spokesperson for HM Courts and Tribunals Service said that the attack was “shocking” and that “ministers had been in contact with the judge throughout”.

They said that such incidents were “incredibly rare” but they took the safety of judges and staff “very seriously” and were “urgently reviewing the circumstances”.

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