Interim Guidelines on Prosecuting Cases of Child Sexual Abuse - Summary
Issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions on 11 June 2013
- Application: These guidelines set out the approach that prosecutors should take when dealing with child sexual abuse cases.
- Allocation: All child sexual abuse cases must be dealt with by specialist prosecutors based in the CPS Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Units which have now been established in each CPS Area. Advocates presenting these cases in court must be specialists.
- Early consultation: In large or complex child sexual abuse cases, there should be early consultation between the police and the CPS. Joint case review meetings should take place periodically so that progress can be checked and advice on case issues given.
- Support: Victims and witnesses should be made aware from the outset of the investigation exactly what is expected of them, particularly in terms of attending court and giving evidence, and they should be offered support to help them in the process. There is no bar to a victim seeking pre-trial therapy or counselling and neither the police nor prosecutors should prevent therapy from taking place prior to trial.
- Identifying risk: Prosecutors should be aware of typical vulnerabilities exhibited by children who may have been abused. These include, but are not limited to: being missing from home, school, or care; drug or alcohol misuse; being estranged from family; self-harm; being involved in offending; and physical injury. Prosecutors should have regard to the list of signs and behaviours typically seen in children who are being sexually exploited which was published by the Office of the Children's Commissioner in England in 2012.
- Credibility: When assessing the credibility of a child or young person, police and prosecutors should focus on the credibility of the allegation, rather than focusing solely on any perceived weaknesses in the victim. In particular, police and prosecutors should avoid making assumptions about victims. A reluctance to co-operate with those in authority, failure to report allegations of abuse swiftly, and providing inconsistent accounts are not uncommon in victims of child sexual abuse, especially during initial interviews.
- Taking the victims account: Particular care should be exercised when deciding how to take the victim 's account. A video recorded interview is often the most appropriate means, but may not always be so. Consideration should be given to the use of a Registered Intermediary at an early stage. Prosecutors should be familiar with police ABE procedures and mindful of the need for a clear and focussed ABE interview to be presented at the trial.
- Other allegations: There is no rule which prevents victims being told that they are not the only ones to have made a complaint of abuse. Victims can be told that the suspect has been the subject of complaints by others. Doing so may strengthen their resolve to continue their engagement with the criminal process. But this should usually only be done after the victim 's account has been given and the details of other allegations should not be disclosed.
- The suspect: In child sexual abuse cases, the account given by the suspect must be considered as intensely as the credibility of the complainant. Prosecutors should ensure that the police investigate all background issues of relevance, including intelligence, previous allegations (even if no prosecution resulted), any relevant child abduction warnings, third party accounts, and the suspect 's associations.
- Third party material: Third party material should be sought at an early stage, preferably pre-charge. Examples of third party material which may be relevant include: medical notes; social services/children 's services material; education notes; counselling/therapy notes, and information or evidence arising in parallel family/civil proceedings. Police and prosecutors should handle requests for Local Authority material in accordance with any applicable local or national protocol to ensure that the Local Authority makes disclosure to the full extent permitted by law.
- Support at court: Prosecutors should discuss with the police at an early stage what special measures should be used to support a victim at court. The views of the victim should be taken into account as well as the type of offending alleged. The use of Registered Intermediaries should also be considered. Prosecutors are advised to keep special measures under review as the date of the trial approaches so that they remain appropriate and the most effective support is given to the victim.
- Cross examination: Ground rules hearings about cross examination in court are recommended in any young witness trial but required in any intermediary cases. This includes the defence agreeing who will be the lead counsel to put questions to the victim in cases with more than one defendant and the length of time given to the cross examination. The ground rules hearings should take place in advance of the day of the trial so that everyone, particularly the victim, is aware of what to expect and how long the proceedings in court should take.
- Challenging myths and stereotypes: Prosecutors should challenge myths and stereotypes at court. In appropriate cases, prosecutors should consider adducing expert evidence or inviting the trial judge to give specific directions to the jury.
- Sharing information: Prosecutors who receive relevant cases from the police should check with the police that they have complied with their statutory duties to share information with Local Authorities and any other relevant bodies. CPS case files should not be closed until this confirmation is received. Prosecutors must be proactive in highlighting to police officers information which is of concern to them. If it is not possible to prosecute a case, but information available causes concern to the prosecutor, they should ensure that this is brought to the attention of the relevant investigating police officers, so that they can in turn share this with the relevant agencies including Local Authorities.
You can read the full Interim Guidelines on Prosecuting Cases of Child Sexual Abuse in the consultations section of this website.