Special judges to preside over child sex cases

Judges with 'bespoke' training to oversee complex abuse cases, but no new specialist courts, MPs told

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The Independent Online

A group of judges will receive special training in order to preside over complex child sex abuses, according to the head of the judiciary in England and Wales.

A particular focus will be placed on ensuring the judges are well-placed to be sensitive to the needs of vulnerable witnesses, particularly during long, complex cases.

But Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice, has rejected a call by MPs to create specialist courts to deal with such abuse cases. He argued that they would slow down the progress of trials and would be too expensive.

His comments came following the publication of a report by the Home Affairs Select Comittee on the issue. While he opposed any new specialist courts, in a letter to committee chairman Keith Vaz MP he wrote: “The combination of the other very sensible proposals in your report, including the training of advocates and the additional training of the core group of judges, will in my view deliver exactly the same outcome as a specialist court.”

In the same letter Lord Judge also gave his support to government proposals to allow young and vulnerable victims of crime to give pre-recorded evidence so as to avoid the trauma of appearing in court.

The proposals follow public concern over the way in which young witnesses in such cases are treated in court, being subject to aggressive cross-examination from defence barristers.

Earlier this week it emerged that a prosecuting barrister described a 13-year-old victim of sexual abuse as “predatory”, during a sentencing hearing for her abuser.

Prosecutor Robert Colover reportedly told the hearing at London's Snaresbrook Crown Court on Monday: “The girl is predatory in all her actions and she is sexually experienced.”

Neil Wilson, 41, was handed an eight month suspended sentence after admitting he engaged in sexual activity with the girl at his home.

Judge Nigel Peters said he took into account that the girl looked and behaved older than she was when he decided Wilson's punishment.

But the sentence could be reviewed after the Attorney General agreed to examine the case, and Mr Colover's comments have also come under fire.

Freelance journalist Caroline Criado-Perez, who campaigned for Jane Austen to appear on £10 notes, said the prosecutor's words were reflective of the sexism in UK society.

She was targeted with relentless abuse and threats on Twitter in the days following her banknote victory.

“This latest incident is the very frontline of the sexism that still pervades UK society, ”she told The Independent.