This week saw the publication of a judgment by Ms Justice Russell, dealing with an appeal from His Honour Judge Tolson (JH v MF [2020] EWHC 86 (Fam)). It concerned serious problems with how the judge had handled allegations of rape and domestic abuse, in particular his approach to issues of consent.

Alexandra Wilson has summarised the case for us here : No means no.

There has been a huge amount of media coverage and discussion of this judgment, which seems to have sent a ripple of shock across the legal community and more widely (although many have observed they are shocked rather than surprised). This post is an attempt to round up some (but of course not all) of the commentary and coverage of the case.

Reports about this case first emerged in early December, when reports emerged from the appeal hearing – but until this week the reasons were awaited. See The Independent from 6 December 2019 here, for example.

Transparency Project member Louise Tickle wrote about the case here : In our secret family courts, judges still don’t understand what rape means.

It was mentioned by The Law Society Gazette more recently in connection with the news of the possibility of family appeals being live streamed. We noted that information about the case was sketchy.

Since the judgment has been published there has naturally been more detailed commentary, not least because of the strength of Ms Justice Russell’s condemnation of the judge’s approach.

Louise Tickle’s initial thoughts on the judgment are here :

Former Chair of the Family Law Bar Association Philip Marshall QC commented on a strong thread from Rights of Women :

Suesspicious Minds covered the judgment in a post called Bad Feng Shui and bad judgment.

Solicitor David Burrows wrote about domestic abuse and secret courts.

Barrister Charlotte Proudman did not mince her words :

Legal Cheek went with the headline High Court slams top family judge for not knowing what consent is.

The Telegraph took a disappointingly cheap line, by focusing on the sex of the judges concerned, and needlessly reminding us that Ms Justice Russell was the first High Court judge to go by the title Ms (yawn) : Female judge criticises male colleague who told woman she wasn’t raped as she didn’t fight back.

The Daily Mail managed a reasonably accurate report in Female judge says her male colleagues need training over ‘outdated’ views after one ruled woman wasn’t raped because she did not try to stop her attacker.

The url for that post (… suggests that The Mail had second thoughts about their original headline, but their algorithms were still offering related content that went back to the ‘Ms’ issue. And they wrongly suggested that Russell had suggested that it was only male judges who needed training, and repeated earlier inaccurate reports that the judge’s decision had ’caused’ the mother to ‘lose a custody battle’ (the child still lives with the mother and it was a contact application not a ‘custody battle’).

Roll on Friday got it completely wrong in saying that the judge made the woman ‘testify in public’. The hearing was conducted in private, as pointed out by ‘Alice’ in the comments.

The Guardian ran a piece from PA : Family judges could get training after row over comments on rape.

The BBC reports also borrow the error from earlier coverage about the woman ‘losing’ the ‘custody’ case, running with the headline Family courts ‘not safe space’ for domestic abuse survivors, based on comments from Womens’ Aid.

The Victoria Derbyshire show covered the story, as did Radio 5 live (featuring Joshua Rosenberg, Louise Tickle and Kirsty Brimelow – we can’t find a playback link for that).

We are sure that there will be further coverage of this case in coming days.

If there are other significant pieces of commentary you think should be on this list do drop us an email and we’ll try and add them. We know there are lots more, but we couldn’t include them all – but hopefully this gives an overview.

For those who want to know what the court’s approach to domestic abuse should look like, take a look at our plain English guidance note on the topic here.

Feature pic : Justice Lane courtesy of Zoey White

We have a small favour to ask! 

The Transparency Project is a registered charity in England & Wales run largely by volunteers who also have full-time jobs. We’re working hard to secure extra funding so that we can keep making family justice clearer for all who use the court and work within it.

Our legal bloggers take time out at their own expense to attend courts and to write up hearings.

We’d be really grateful if you were able to help us by making a small one-off (or regular!) donation through our Just Giving page.

Thanks for reading!