Advanced Search

R v Wilson and Young. A statement regarding calling a very young victim as a witness

01/05/2009

The question whether a very young witness should be called to give evidence does not hinge only on the question of age. When reviewing cases involving very young witnesses the Crown Prosecution Service must consider a number of issues.

Firstly we must evaluate the level of the witness's understanding and once we are satisfied that they can understand what is being asked of them and that they are capable of expressing what they mean, then we consider whether the account they have given is reliable. Finally we must determine whether it is right, having regard to the welfare of the witness, which is a paramount consideration, to call the witness in criminal proceedings. In reaching judgments on these issues we take account of all the available evidence and information from other witnesses including specialists and health care professionals where relevant.

In reaching the decision to call this witness to give evidence, the Crown Prosecution Service consulted a range of specialist views including those of a consultant paediatric psychiatrist together with the views of her carers, other health care professionals who knew her, and the specialist police investigators who had interviewed her.

Once we had received this advice we discussed this decision at senior levels within the CPS and concluded that it was in the best interests of this child and of justice to call her as a witness.  She received an extremely high level of support throughout the process.

During the course of the proceedings the judge overruled a number of arguments presented by the defence teams that the witness did not have sufficient understanding to enable her to give evidence before the jury. He also concluded, at the end of the prosecution case and after the witness had testified, that the account she had provided was properly one which should be left to the jury to consider. They have reached their decision.

Were it not possible for us to consider calling very young witnesses, purely because of their age, then that would inevitably provide a green light to those who abuse them.