Call for reform over child witnesses in court

The barrister who cross-examined the four-year-old girl raped by one of Baby P's killers has called for reform in the way that child witnesses are treated by the courts system.

Bernard Richmond, who defended the boyfriend of Baby P's mother's against a charge of rape, spoke out as he gave mitigation ahead of his client's sentencing.

The barrister was criticised after he asked the girl, who was just two when the offence took place, perplexing questions during cross examination such as "what is truth?". At points, the girl, being questioned via video link, looked frightened and refused to answer questions.

Ultimately her testimony helped convict the man who sexually abused her. He was found guilty earlier this month. But yesterday Mr Richmond accepted he may have been responsible for "failings" in his questioning, although said it was due to a flawed system. He said: "The cross-examination of a four-year-old victim of a sexual allegation is one of the most intense and difficult tasks to ever fall to an advocate. We do not pick and choose our cases. We are instructed and it is our duty and privilege to be available to everyone in need of us.

"Once we are engaged our duties are clear and established by rules. We must test the evidence against our client and must put inconsistencies to the witness, however young. This case involved putting to her that she was not telling the truth and that these events never happened.

"Currently in law there is no other method available to us other than cross-examination by video link following the briefest of introductions. Had there been a more relaxed method we would have encouraged it and I am sure your lordship would have granted it.

"There has been some comment that the examination was not appropriate. It is not for me to determine what system can be used in cross-examining children. One can only hope that a more appropriate system will come into play."

Police sources have already said they were shocked at the "adversarial way" in which the girl was cross-examined and say that the issue of how child witnesses are dealt with needs to be addressed. Currently, the only concessions made are that the child is allowed to give the evidence via video link, in a separate room, can have breaks between evidence and barristers and judges remove their wigs to make the process seem less formal.

But following sentencing tomorrow, police hope to meet with the Crown Prosecution Service, the Bar and other bodies to discuss how the situation could be remedied. One possible solution is the use of intermediaries to put the questions the barristers want answered to the children.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
Voices
A mother and her child
voices
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballI have never seen the point of lambasting the fourth official, writes Paul Scholes
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee