New guidelines for dealing with child sex abuse cases published today will mark “the most fundamental attitude shift” in the criminal justice system in a generation, the Director of Public Prosecutions has claimed.
Keir Starmer said the finalised advice would help prosecutors battle the myths and stereotypes about victims of sex abuse and ensure more convictions.
The guidelines cover how victims should be treated and how a case should be built and presented. They were drawn up after a number of high profile and controversial sex crime cases including the abuse gangs that operated in Rochdale and Oxford.
“For too long, child sexual abuse cases have been plagued by myths about how 'real' victims behave which simply do not withstand scrutiny,” said Mr Starner.
“The days of the model victim are over. From now on these cases will be investigated and prosecuted.
But Alison Worsley, Deputy Director of Strategy at Barnardo's, said it was not just the attitude of prosecutors that needed to change.
“A wholesale shift in attitudes is required throughout the legal system when dealing with the child victims of sexual exploitation and these guidelines are a step towards achieving that,” she said.
“We must make sure we always listen to what children are telling us, often through their behaviour rather than just words, and consign stereotypes and myths to the history books.”
MP Ann Coffey, chairwoman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Runaway and Missing Children, said aggressive cross-examination by defence barristers also needed to be tackled.
She said: “These new rules for prosecutors are massively important and welcome but the main problem for child victims is aggressive cross examination by defence barristers who set out to humiliate and destroy them.
“Barristers in child sex abuse cases must be stopped from manipulating child witnesses like puppets in the witness box. That is the single biggest thing that puts victims off coming forward and giving evidence. It is often not really cross examination of evidence at all, but is about smearing and breaking down the witness to get defendants off the hook.”
Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry said it is not clear how much of the guidance will actually get used in practice.
“These proposals are a welcome effort to correct the over-cautious stance the CPS took in the Jimmy Savile and street-grooming cases,” she said.
“However, the guidance contains a lot more ”shoulds“ than ”musts“ which makes it far from certain how much of this will actually get implemented.