The most senior judge in England and Wales has rejected calls for specialist courts to deal with cases of child sexual exploitation but judges will be handpicked by a specialist panel
- Senior judges will have to approve the trial judge for all serious sex cases
- Response to concerns about how young people are cross-examined
- However, Lord Chief Justice rejected calls for specialist centres
- Wrote to Keith Vaz saying specialist courts would increase waiting times
Specialist judges will be hand-picked to deal with child sex abuse cases to give victims greater protection.
The changes announced today will mean senior judges will have to approve the trial judge for all serious sex cases that are due to last more than two weeks or where there are multi-defendants.
This will also happen where a witness is considered to be ‘significantly’ vulnerable.
This core batch of judges will then get additional specialist training.
But the most senior judge in England and Wales rejected calls for specialist courts to deal with cases of child sexual abuse.
Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, the head of the judiciary in England and Wales, believes the proposals for specialist centres will lead to increased waiting times and are likely to be costly to run.
Writing to chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz MP, Lord Judge said he had made changes to the selection process for judges sitting on serious sex cases.
As well as calling for additional training for judges, Mr Vaz’s committee also recommended the Government introduce specialist courts, similar to domestic violence courts currently running, for child sexual abuse or sexual offences as a whole.
The Committee did not want new buildings created but rather in each region one court room should be designated as the preferred court for the most serious child sexual exploitation cases.
But in his response to the Committee’s report, Lord Judge, who retires from his role at the end of September, said: ‘I do not agree that specialist courts will materially improve the position.
‘It goes without saying that all of those involved in the process should be trained appropriately, but there are likely to be unintended adverse consequences if this proposal is taken forward.
‘Restricting the available venues to a few specialist centres is likely to lead to far greater waiting times because of the limited number of court rooms, judges and staff.
‘Additionally, these courts are likely to prove expensive to set up and run.
‘Instead, the combination of the other very sensible proposals in your report, including the training of advocates and the additional training of the core group of judges, will in my view deliver exactly the same outcome as a specialist court.’
Lord Judge has previously shown his support for proposals to allow young and vulnerable victims of horrific crimes to pre-record evidence for criminal trials in a bid to protect them from the trauma of appearing in court.
Working with the Judiciary, Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunal Service, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service, the Ministry of Justice is bringing Section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act into force.
It will allow all children and the most vulnerable adults to escape being grilled in court, in front of an audience, by recording their cross-examination away from the highly-charged court environment.
The body of violin teacher Frances Andrade was found after she gave evidence against the man who abused her
Javed Khan, chief executive of independent national charity Victim Support, said plans to provide judges with additional training were ‘significant’.
He said: ‘Ensuring appropriately experienced and trained judges preside in the most complex of cases, particularly those involving multiple-defendants, is a considerable step in the right direction.
‘While I agree that many judges handle cases sensitively, our experience tells me that others can be too slow to interject during overly aggressive cross-examination.’
He added: ‘While we agree that the creation of specialist courts could be costly and increase waiting times, we continue to press for the extension of the young witness service into every court in England and Wales.
‘It is vital that young, vulnerable witnesses in particular have access to specialists who can appropriately guide and support them through the court process, which is too frequently a traumatic life-changing event.’
The move comes a day after it emerged a teenager who accused a gang of 10 men of grooming her for sex from the age of 11 tried to kill herself during their trial, it emerged today.
The 17-year-old took an overdose after her first day of evidence, raising more concerns about how vulnerable witnesses are cared for during sex abuse trials.
These 10 men were accused of a string of rapes and other child sex offences against her and others in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire.
Frances Andrade, a violin teacher, killed herself in January after being cross-examined at the trial of a man who was later convicted of abusing her at 14.
In one emotional exchange in court the 48-year-old had said the experience of being called a liar by Michael Brewer’s legal team felt like ‘rape all over again.’
In this latest case the teenager had be treated in hospital after her suicide attempt and the trial was stopped for several days in May until she was well enough to return to Oxford Crown Court.
A source close to her said she had taken the pills because of the ‘stress and pressure she was feeling’.