The most senior judge in England and Wales rejected calls today for specialist courts to be established to deal with cases of child sexual exploitation.
The proposal was one of a number made by the Commons home affairs committee and backed by victims groups.
As well as calling for additional training for judges, the committee recommended that the government introduce specialist courts for cases of child sexual abuse or sexual offences as a whole.
“I do not agree that specialist courts will materially improve the position,” said Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice (pictured).
“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.”
Rather, he said, “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.”
The report said that rather than create new buildings in each region one court room should be designated as the preferred court for the most serious child sexual exploitation cases.
Similar courts already exist for domestic violence cases.
But in his response to the report Lord Judge said he had made changes to the selection process for judges sitting on serious sex cases.
These judges will receive special training on how to conduct trials with significantly vulnerable witnesses.
Charity Victim Support’s chief executive Javed Khan 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.”
by Paddy Mcguffin