Serious sexual abuse cases to get specialist Judges
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The Lord Chief Justice has announced that child victims of sexual abuse will have their cases tried by a specialist panel of judges, in order to give them more protection in criminal trials.
Lord Justice Judge said that the move came in response to concerns about the treatment of young victims under cross examinations from defence counsel in sexual abuse cases.
The measures will only apply to the more serious sexual abuse cases, such as the Oxford grooming criminal prosecutions. There are already a raft of measures available to victims of sexual abuse who enter the court system. The police have strict guidelines for interviewing witnesses in these cases. In addition, victims are normally subject to an anonymity order, and they can give evidence by video link or behind a screen.
The police also try to provide a victim with a special liaison officer, who keeps them informed of what is happening in the case. However the stress of giving evidence in court is often too much to bear and it still takes enormous courage. This explains the huge disparity between the number of sexual offences reported and those where convictions are secured. It also explains the amount of time that victims may take to come forward, as has been seen in the shocking cases involving Jimmy Saville.
Lord Justice Judge is also concerned to prevent inappropriate and oppressive questioning by the accused's defence counsel. It is a fundamental right for an accused to be able to question his accuser, but in the highly charged atmosphere of the court room, this can swing the pendulum too far against the victim.
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