Child sexual abuse witnesses and victims let down by justice system
Video recorded interview evidence from child abuse witnesses and victims needs to be a better standard for criminal trial, according to inspectors in a joint report published today.
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Inappropriate questioning techniques are too often used by police for the interviews with poor preparation and unclear audio and visual quality, the report says.
Interview rooms for toddlers to give evidence appear “sterile with little thought for putting children at ease and not child-friendly”.
Today’s report from Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) sets out 11 recommendations for improvement, including better training and additional guidance for staging the sensitive interviews – often with children as young as four or five.
The report, ‘Achieving best evidence in child sexual abuse cases – a joint inspection’, found there were only 10 police interviews in a sample of 69 where the specific needs of the child (physical, sexual, social, cognitive or linguistic) were recorded as being considered.
In 77 percent of interviews with vulnerable children monitored by inspectors, there was no record of the specific needs of the child having been considered.
The report also found:
- guidance for the interviews not adhered to;
- just a small number of DVDs viewed had labels to link with a specific case file – possibly leading to misfiling; and
- police cited time pressures and shortage of trained staff as reasons for speedy child interviews.
Inspectors say CPS lawyers could do more to help police obtain higher quality evidence from child witnesses and victims.
According to the report, although CPS and counsel contribute to the training, far more could be done to build understanding of how the recorded interview will be used in court and what constitutes best evidence in that context.
This needs to be reinforced by a consistent and better dialogue between trial advocates, lawyers and police officers, the report says.
HMCPSI Chief Inspector Michael Fuller QPM said:
“These findings are disappointing because it means that child sexual abuse witnesses and victims are being short-changed by the criminal justice system. Police and CPS need to offer children more support for these delicate and often difficult interviews. The guidance is out there and should be adhered to.
“As a society, we owe it to them to ensure that these pre-recorded interviews are carried out in a rigorous manner, to ensure fairness and to achieve the best evidence possible. I hope the recommendations from HMCPSI and HMIC will go a long way towards improving the current situation.”
Inspector of Constabulary, Dru Sharpling CBE said:
“This inspection forms part of our work to drive improvements in the response of the criminal justice system to vulnerable people.
“We were very concerned to find that children in cases of sexual exploitation and rape are being let down. They aren’t being provided with the support they need to give their ‘best’ evidence to the court.
“Inspectors found poor compliance with best practice guidance, poor planning and quality assurance, and insufficient consideration of the needs of vulnerable children. The gap between best practice and actual practice is widening.
“Our report provides a number of recommendations aimed at improving the situation. We urge all police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service to take immediate steps to implement them.”
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The inspection took place in the light of continuing concern about child sexual abuse highlighted by recent high-profile cases and against a background of significant rises in reported child rape over the last 5 years.
Inspectors did the bulk of their work in February and March 2014.
- The joint inspection team visited six police force areas and interviewed operational staff and leads within the Crown Prosecution Service and police force who handle child sexual abuse cases.
- For interviews with HMCPSI Chief Inspector Michael Fuller contact William Mach on 0207 271 2484.