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CPS publishes guidelines on prosecutors' approach to Child Sexual Abuse cases

11/06/2013

Ground breaking new guidelines for prosecutors on how to tackle cases involving child sexual abuse have today been issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions and will take immediate effect. At the same time, the College of Policing has issued guidance for investigators and both documents are now open to a three month public consultation.

Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer, QC, said: "These guidelines are intended to spell out a different approach to prosecuting these very difficult cases. In particular, the guidelines make clear that the focus for prosecutors must be on the credibility of the allegation being made; and underline that the task is to build strong cases by linking evidence rather than failing to bring cases because of perceived weaknesses in the victim."

The guidance has been informed by a series of roundtables hosted by the CPS and ACPO and attended by front line investigators, lawyers, victims' representatives, academics, social services, the judiciary and others with an interest or expertise in Criminal Justice.

Mr Starmer said: "These guidelines are informed by those involved in protecting children, and it is the valuable contribution of all those who attended the roundtable discussions that has helped to ensure that they are comprehensive and demonstrate the radically new approach we will now be taking.

"Now it is for the public to let us know if they believe we are in the right place and, I hope, to take assurance from the fact that police and prosecutors have worked together to produce this document. We are, without doubt, at a moment of fundamental change in the way we view these offences within the criminal justice system, and in our society as a whole."

National policing lead on violence and public protection, Chief Constable Dave Whatton, said: "This consultation is a moment to reflect on how we can deliver the best for victims of child sexual abuse and ensure the right approach through the entire criminal justice process."

The interim guidelines launched today will be applied to all cases where a sexual offence has been committed against a child or young person. A helpful summary of the guidance can be found here.

On the detail of the guidelines, Mr Starmer said: "A key shift in our approach has to be the way that prosecutors assess the credibility of the allegation being made, rather than making assumptions about the person making them. We do not instinctively question someone who reports a burglary and nor should we a complainant of sexual abuse."

The interim guidelines set out clearly what is to be expected of police and prosecutors with responsibility for these cases from the start and include:

  • The requirement that child sexual abuse cases are only dealt with in specialist teams of prosecutrors, i.e. the Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Units we are establishing in each CPS Area.
  • Arrangements for early consultation and joint work between police and prosecutors to agree a case strategy and address evidential issues head on.
  • A rule that every case must be considered on its facts and merits. Myths, stereotypes and prejudices must be ignored for the purpose of deciding whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction.
  • A requirement that police and prosecutors ensure that appropriate support is available for victims including, where appropriate, counselling.
  • A duty on prosecutors to challenge myths and stereotypes in court and to ensure that cases are progressed as swiftly as possible and trial delay minimised.

Mr Starmer added: "Vulnerability can no longer be a barrier to justice and I want to see prosecutors actively challenging any misconceptions a jury might have. The CPS has talented and experienced professionals who are ready and able to take on these extremely challenging cases."

The roundtable discussions identified a number of other issues relevant to the improvement of the criminal justice response to child sexual abuse cases. These ideas include the introduction of pre-recorded cross examination of victims, a trial for which has today (Tuesday) been announced by the Ministry of Justice. They also include the greater use of intermediaries, the scope for a specialist court, ensuring court cases go ahead on time, and that victims giving evidence in the witness box are not doing so for unnecessarily long periods of time, especially in cases where there are multiple defendants.

We are now working with the Government through the newly formed National Taskforce on Sexual Violence Against Children and the Vulnerable and with the Judiciary to take these issues forward.

Full details for the Child Sexual Abuse Review Panel, which will review complaints made in the past that were not pursued by police and prosecutors, have also been published today.

The consultation can be found on the CPS website.

Alan Wardle, Head of Corporate Affairs at the NSPCC, said: "These are hugely promising developments which we wholeheartedly endorse. Every effort must be made to encourage the victims of child sexual abuse to speak out. And once they have had the courage to do so, the legal system should provide support, not obstacles which often erode their confidence and result in them not able to give their best evidence."

Sue Berelowitz, Deputy Children's Commissioner for England, said: "The Crown Prosecution Service has taken great care to consult organisations working with children when drafting the consultation on a new approach for prosecutors to reviewing cases of child sexual abuse.  The personal commitment of the Director of Public Prosecutions to ensuring child victims are listened to and heard is to be applauded.

"I welcome the creation of a new panel to review historic allegations of child abuse where alleged victims are unhappy with the police or CPS' action.  I'm delighted to have been asked to act as an independent advisor to the panel to help ensure children's voices are properly heard and cases that need to be are reviewed and investigated."

Bernie Ryan, Manager of Manchester's St Mary's Sexual Assault Referral Centre, said: "St Mary's Sexual Assault Referral Centre was pleased to be invited to provide input to the roundtable discussions and to help shape and inform these interim guidelines. There are many  challenges in providing appropriate services and support to people who have experienced child sexual abuse and I hope these draft guidelines will prompt full and frank discussion so that we can all arrive at a national consensus that is both achievable and victim-focussed."

Ends

Notes to Editors

  1. For media enquiries call the CPS Press Office on 020 3357 0906; Out of Hours Pager 07699 781 926
  2. The DPP has set out what the public can expect from the CPS in the Core Quality Standards document published in March 2010.
  3. The CPS consists of 13 Areas in total, each headed by a Chief Crown Prosecutor (CCP). In addition, there are three specialised national divisions: Central Fraud Division, Special Crime and Counter Terrorism, and Organised Crime. In 2011-2012, The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Department of Health (DoH) prosecution functions were transferred to the CPS. A telephone service, CPS Direct, provides out-of-hours advice and decisions to police officers across England and Wales.
  4. In 2010-2011 the CPS employed around 7,745 people and prosecuted 957,881 cases with 116,898 of these in the Crown Court, and the remaining 840,983 in the magistrates' courts. Of those we prosecuted, 93,106 defendants were convicted in the Crown Court and 727,491 in the magistrates' courts. In total 86% of cases prosecuted resulted in a conviction. Further information can be found on the CPS website.
  5. The CPS, together with ACPO and media representatives, has developed a Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media. This sets out the type of prosecution material that will normally be released, or considered for release, together with the factors we will take into account when considering requests. Read the Protocol for the release of prosecution material to the media.