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Ms Justice Russell and some Feng Shui: the case of JH v MF [2020] EWHC 86 (Fam)

Monday 16 March 2020

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The case of JH v MJ concerned an appeal heard and allowed before Ms Justice Russell from HHJ Tolson, the designated family judge at the Central Family Court in London. For the avoidance of doubt that is the most senior judge at central family court with a number important roles in and oversight of the administration of family justice.

The judge heard a case involving serious allegations of domestic abuse which included rape. Of note is the failure of the judge to give any effect to measures to assist vulnerable participants permitted under FPR PD 3A and 3AA and specifically requested in this case. The Appellant had asked to be able to give her evidence in such a way that she wouldn’t have to be intimidated by the Respondent and behind a screen. However,

“The judge took the inexplicable step, contrary to the expressed view and request of the Appellant, and contrary to the rules of procedure, of ordering that the Appellant give evidence from counsel’s row as “better” than using the witness box and screens.” (Para 15 Judgment).

Having failed to properly allow special measures and hear the evidence of the Appellant he also decided that the alleged perpetrator and respondent should also give his evidence from counsel’s row, ‘making reference to the ‘feng shui’ of the court room (Para 16).

The judgment must be read in full for a truly awful and shocking demonstration of a total failure to understand domestic abuse.  Para 31 is demonstrative,

“the judge had concluded that graphic, sexually explicit and threatening texts such as “If you don’t shut up I will stick my cock up your ass” were consistent with “sexting” and were not “helpful”.

More widely reported was the judge’s failure to understand the issue of consent. The only Feng Shui to be found in this profoundly disturbing case is Ms Justice Russell’s judgment which concludes with the recommendation that family judges trying cases of serious sexual assault should have proper training.

An urgent update as to the progress of this is required. Given this judge would have had training in PD 3A and yet acted as he did, further training may not be enough.

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