17 Oct 2013

‘Fundamental shift’ underpins new child abuse guidelines

The director of public prosecutions says new guidelines for child sex abuse cases represent the “most fundamental attitude shift” in the criminal justice system in a generation.

Speaking about the new advice, which includes a list of myths and stereotypes about victims that prosecutors may need to battle in court, DPP Keir Starmer said:

“In the past five years our approach to prosecuting sexual offences has matured and developed – but this change marks the most fundamental attitude shift across the criminal justice system for a generation.

These cases will be investigated and prosecuted differently, whatever the vulnerabilities of the victim Keir Starmer

“For too long, child sexual abuse cases have been plagued by myths about how ‘real’ victims behave which simply do not withstand scrutiny. The days of the model victim are over.

“From now on these cases will be investigated and prosecuted differently, whatever the vulnerabilities of the victim.”

The guidelines, which were drawn up after a number of high-profile cases such those of the sex abuse gangs in Oxford and Rochdale and that of Jimmy Savile, cover how victims should be treated and how a case should be built and presented in court.

Alison Worsley, deputy director of strategy at Barnardo’s, said the guidelines were welcome:

“The challenge comes now for police and prosecutors to live up to the word of the guidance and make the crucial changes needed in practice.”

Last month, prosecutor Robert Colover agreed to resign from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) rape panel of advocates after sparking outrage by describing a 13-year-old victim of a paedophile as “predatory” in court. After reviewing the case, Kier Starmer found the language used “grossly inappropriate.” The CPS Mr Colover will no longer undertake prosecutions involving serious sexual offences or child sexual abuse.

Hostile questioning

MP Ann Coffey, the chairwoman of the all party parliamentary group for runaway and missing children, responded to the new guidelines by calling for an end to aggressive cross-examinations:

“Barristers in child sex abuse cases must be stopped from manipulating child witnesses like puppets in the witness box. That is the single biggest thing that puts victims off coming forward and giving evidence. It is often not really cross examination of evidence at all, but is about smearing and breaking down the witness to get defendants off the hook.”

Lawyer Jessica Standley, who is representing 72 of Jimmy Savile’s victims also welcomed the new guidance: “We are pleased to see the guidelines recognise that victims frequently come from difficult backgrounds – people who have suffered a tough past are no less credible than anyone else.”