Better protection for child sex abuse victims in court

Published August 8, 2013 by JS2

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Baljit Ubhey, of the Crown Prosecution Service, talks to the media outside the Old Bailey after the Oxford men were sentenced in June

CHILD sex abuse victims are to be given greater protection in court under new proposals drawn up in the wake of Operation Bullfinch and other high-profile exploitation cases.

The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) is consulting on new guidelines for prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse, aimed at easing the strain on victims.

And yesterday it was announced that a core of elite judges will be selected for specialist training to deal with complex sexual abuse cases such as Bullfinch, where there are multiple defendants and at least one vulnerable witness.

The Lord Chief Justice wrote to chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee Keith Vaz on Tuesday responding to a year-long inquiry into grooming gangs.

He recommended Judge Rook QC, who handed down the sentences in the Bullfinch case in June.

The development comes amid concerns over the vulnerability of victims when grilled on the stand.

Yesterday it emerged a 17-year-old took an overdose of pills at the end of her first day in the witness box at Oxford Crown Court in May.

She was treated in hospital before returning to testify.

During the session the girl was cross-examined by 10 defence barristers representing men from High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, who faced multiple counts of rape and other child-sex offences.

Last month Justice Secretary Chris Grayling recommended specialist training for defence barristers in trials like Bullfinch after lobbying by MP for Oxford West and Abingdon Nicola Blackwood.

The CPS consultation was in the pipeline shortly before the Operation Bullfinch trial, and was also shaped by Operation Yewtree, which investigated historic cases of sexual abuse by disgraced former TV presenter Jimmy Savile, and the grooming cases in Rochdale and Derby.

The CPS welcomed the move by the Chief Justice and said it was pleased to see the judiciary had fed into its recommendations.

Baljit Ubhey, Chief Crown Prosecutor for Thames and Chiltern CPS, said the changes signalled “a fresh approach” to how cases of sexual abuse involving children and young people were prosecuted.

Ms Ubhey said: “The big change is rather than focusing overly on the victims’ credibility and testing that, the shift is to focus on the overall allegation and test the suspects’ credibility as well.

“If we were prosecuting this (Bullfinch) 10 years ago it would have undermined their credibility and juries wouldn’t have believed them.”

Campaigners have also welcomed the move. A spokesman for Victim Support Oxford said: “We believe that the unique circumstances of young victims of abuse and sexual exploitation should be taken into account by the courts, and we very much support the shift in focus from the victim being required to prove their credibility pre-trial to an open scrutiny of the full evidence at court.”

In June seven gang members who raped, prostituted and sexually abused young girls in Oxford were given sentences totalling 95 years.

Several of the young girls came under intense scrutiny as defence barristers accused them of lying about their ordeals.

They were later praised for their bravery by police and officials.

Under the new guidelines child sexual abuse cases would be dealt with only by specialist teams of prosecutors, for example the Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Units being established in each CPS area.

Police and prosecutors must also ensure that appropriate support is available for victims including, where appropriate, counselling.

The consultation is open until September 3. To have your say, visit cps.gov.uk/consultations/ csa_consultation_index.html

 

by Matt Wilkinson

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