Campaigners call for action on judges with ‘outdated views’ on domestic abuse and sexual violence

Campaigners have called on ministers and senior members of the judiciary to take action over concerns some family court judges hold “outdated views” on domestic abuse and sexual violence.

A letter signed by more than 130 family and human rights lawyers as well as women’s rights groups and charities was sent after a judge found a woman was not raped because she took no physical steps to stop it.

In it, they say Judge Robin Tolson’s ongoing cases should be reviewed and raise concerns of “wider systemic” problems.

Earlier this month, shadow policing minister Louise Haigh said Judge Tolson should no longer preside over domestic abuse and rape cases in the family courts.

In January, the senior family judge in London Central Family Court ruled that because a woman had taken “no physical steps” to stop a man from raping her, “this did not constitute rape”, and consequently ruled against her.

The woman, who said the judge’s “outdated views” on sexual assault led to her losing a fight with a former partner centred on their four-year-old son, has since been allowed to appeal against the ruling.

The letter said the incident “shone a spotlight on the problems faced by victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence when trying to protect themselves and their children in the Family Courts, adding: “We are concerned that training alone will not fix the problem.

“We are aware that other family judges hold similar ‘outdated’ views.

“There are wider systemic issues including some lack of understanding of domestic abuse and serious sexual assault, and a failure to apply the practice directions to afford victims a fair trial.

“This is despite training and clear rules.

“It leaves children and women at risk of serious harm and undermines the credibility of our legal system.

“Increasingly, the courts are no longer seen as a safe place for women who have been abused.”

The letter, sent to Justice Secretary Robert Buckland and the President of the Family Division Sir Andrew McFarlane among others, was also said to be supported by the Victims’ Commissioner, London Victims’ Commissioner and the Domestic Abuse Commissioner.

Judge Tolson was made a circuit judge five years ago, by then lord chancellor and justice secretary Chris Grayling, at the age of 56 after working as a barrister for nearly 35 years.

He had begun sitting as a part-time judge in 1999.

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