Family court judge’s cases to be reviewed
Earlier this year it was reported that a case heard in the family court by Judge Tolson was being overturned and a fresh trial ordered partly due to the outdated comments Judge Tolson made concerning rape. The case centred around a man who had asked to be allowed to spend time with his son, who was in the care of his former partner. She objected because she said the man had been controlling and had raped her.
Judge Tolson heard the case at trial and told the family court because the woman “was not in any sense pinned down”, she “could easily, physically, have made life harder” for the man – and it “did not constitute rape”.
Because of these comments the woman appealed and argued the judge’s approach had led to her losing the legal battle with the man. At the High Court her case was heard by Ms Justice Russell, who dismissed the original order made by Judge Tolson and ordered a fresh trial to be held before a different judge. She also said specialist training was needed on how family-court judges dealt with sexual assault allegations.
Following this case a letter has been delivered to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and the family courts president, Sir Andrew McFarlane. This letter has been signed by over 130 lawyers and organisations including Rape Crisis England and Wales, Women’s Aid and the Centre for Women’s Justice. The letter says attitudes such as those expressed by the judge “leave children and women at risk of serious harm” .They also say family court judges should be trained on the “meaning of consent”. They have called for all of Judge Tolson’s cases to be continuously reviewed to make sure a similar situation does not occur again.
It adds that since the case came to light in the media, it has “resulted in women contacting some of the signatories to this letter with their experiences of [Judge Tolson] and other judges who have expressed similar attitudes. Their concerns have included attitudes about sexual violence as seen in [this case], professional assessment of abusive parents being disregarded without reason and failure to provide special measures during hearings.”
The letter is supported by the Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, and the London Victims’ Commissioner, Claire Waxman.
The UK Judiciary said in a statement that “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. 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.’
Amanda Erskine is a solicitor in the Family department at Barker Gotelee Solicitors in Ipswich.