Shift announced in child abuse prosecution

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This means that hundreds of cases where there was no prosecution could be re-examined. New guidelines will be introduced for police and prosecutors in England and Wales, and a panel will review cases where alleged perpetrators were not charged. New training will also be offered to those dealing with child exploitation cases, following the child abuse scandals in Rochdale, where the police and social services missed opportunities to stop the abuse.

The draft guidelines are expected to be ready in May for a three-month public consultation.

This is not the first time that child abuse investigation has come under review. Ten years ago however, the fear was that people were being wrongly convicted. The investigations undertaken by the police in the 1990’s involved the location of thousands of former care home residents and inevitably this mode of investigation (known as ‘trawling’) led to the charge that the prosecutions were flawed and that miscarriages of justice were occurring. In 2001 to 2002 the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee undertook an enquiry entitled ‘The Conduct of Investigations into Past Cases of Abuse in Children’s Homes’ The Committee was concerned to look into allegations that the trawling methods employed by the police were suspect, and moreover that witnesses were fabricating or exaggerating their account in order to gain compensation. The Committee also looked at making changes to the criminal justice and compensation system. Some of the Committee’s recommendations can now be seen in the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004.

Certainly there is something in the DPP’s comments that the credibility of the victim seems to be put under the microscope, whereas there is little attention paid to the suspect. However leaving aside the issue of whether a person is innocent or guilty, the position of many people accused of abuse is not an enviable one. They are normally identified by the press, and once the charges are made public, there will be a huge tide of revulsion against the alleged crimes. This is why some commentators have compared child abuse investigations to modern day witch hunts. On the other hand, the evidence that is put against such people can be very strong indeed, with multiple witnesses who are unlikely to know one another, all telling the same story.

Malcolm Johnson
Personal Injury team

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