29 Jun 2015

Lord Janner child abuse claims – the key questions

The Crown Prosecution Service today reversed a decision not to prosecute the Labour peer over child sex abuse allegations. What is the background to this latest move? And what happens next?

What is the background to today’s announcement?

Lord Greville Janner, 86, allegedly used his power as an MP for Leicester to abuse vulnerable young boys at a local children’s home – claims he and his family strongly deny.

He was investigated by three different police inquiries between 1991 and 2007, and the CPS has admitted it was wrong not to prosecute the peer back then.

In 2013 Lord Janner’s home in Barnet, north London, was raided by police, and in March last year his House of Lords office was searched, but he was not arrested on either occasion.

On 16 April this year the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders, announced that it would not be in the public interest for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) to proceed with a case against Lord Janner, who has Alzheimer’s

There followed a reassessment of the decision, by Treasury Counsel David Perry QC, under a victims’ right to review scheme introduced in 2013. This concluded that it was in the public interest for Lord Janner to be prosecuted.

A judge will now decide whether or not Lord Janner is fit to stand trial. If he is not, a “trial of the facts” would be held into the 22 offences he allegedly committed in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. His case is listed to be heard at Westminster magistrates court on 7 August.

What is a ‘trial of the facts’?

A defendant who is found unfit, either mentally or physically, to participate in a criminal trial is not tried in the usual way.

The jury considers, at a “trial of the facts”, whether he or she committed the act they have been charged with. If they did, the court can institute measures to provide supervision and support for the defendant and protect the public.

The CPS has said that the most likely outcome of a “trial of the facts” will be an absolute discharge – which is neither punishment nor conviction.

What was the response to the decision not to prosecute?

Lord Macdonald, a previous director of public prosecutions, told the BBC today that “you could respectively, in legal terms, come to either conclusion – either that (Lord Janner) should or shouldn’t be (prosecuted).”

However, the decision was met with criticism from many quarters. Roger Bannister of Leicestershire Police, told Channel 4 News he believed the alleged victims “should have had the opportunity for those allegations to be tested by a jury”.

Leicestershire’s police and crime commissioner, Sir Clive Loader, said he was “dismayed and deeply disappointed” that there would be no prosecution.

Labour MP Simon Danczuk, who has campaigned to expose historical child abuse, called the decision to drop the Janner case an error of judgement. “It all gives the impresson that there has been a cover-up,” he said.

Liz Dux, a lawyer with Slater & Gordon, which is acting for many alleged victims of Jimmy Savile, said the move had “done nothing for public confidence in the judicial system”.

Even Lord Macdonald himself, speaking after the April announcement not to prosecute, said: “It might have been wiser for the CPS now to say we’re going to have this matter resolved in the full public glare of a courtroom rather than simply by the DPP.”

What other forums are there for the alleged victims?

In a statement today, Alison Saunders said that she had contacted Justice Goddard, who is heading the independent inquiry into child sexual abuse in England and Wales, to ensure that the complainants in the Janner case could give evidence.

However, the DPP said David Perry’s right to review assessment “has concluded that this forum, albeit a public one, cannot substitute for the adjudication of the courts”.

Retired judge Sir Richard Henriques is also reviewing how previous allegations made against Lord Janner in 1991, 2002 and 2007 were handled.

The CPS said today that it had received a draft of his report, which is being finalised.

A spokesman said that it would confirm that the CPS’s decisions were “wrong” and that the handling of the case by both police and prosecutors had been “unsatisfactory”.