MPs call for specialist courts to deal with sex abuse cases

 

Vulnerable sexual abuse witnesses should be allowed to give evidence in new specialist courts featuring uniquely-trained judges in the wake of the Rochdale and Jimmy Savile scandals, MPs will argue today.

The court sittings, modelled on those introduced for domestic violence cases, would also ensure a specially-trained court usher is assigned to at-risk witnesses and facilities such as screens to protect them from the accused are provided.

Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood and Labour MP Ann Coffey are calling for specialist courts in two proposed amendments to the forthcoming Crime and Courts Bill, which is being debated in Parliament today.

They will also press for "intermediaries" to be assigned to witnesses in every sexual exploitation case, who would advise on how to support vulnerable witnesses as well as monitor questioning and cross-examination practice.

Ms Coffey, MP for Stockport, said: "Cross examination is often traumatic and inappropriate for child witnesses. NSPCC research showed that more than half of young witnesses experience stress symptoms ranging from sleep and eating problems, depression, bed-wetting and self-harming.

"Children do not approach communication in the same way as adults and the same research also revealed that half of all young witnesses said they were unable to understand some of the questions they were asked in court. This rises to 90% in those aged under 10."

The calls come after Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, expressed concerns about the treatment of vulnerable court witnesses in the wake of the Savile scandal.

He said: "Police forces have significantly improved the way that victims are treated but the fact is many, many victims do not come forward or if they do are reluctant to support a prosecution. This highlights another issue in the way our adversarial court system treats victims."

He added: "In sexual offences, the behaviour of the victim, whether they had been drinking, any weaknesses of character, how they were dressed, may well be picked over at great length in the courtroom."

Esther Rantzen, the founder of ChildLine, has also said the pressure put on young witnesses during cross-examination in courtrooms is allowing sex offenders to get away with their crimes.

Vulnerable victims often have to endure aggressive cross-examination and questioning from multiple lawyers in intimidating court settings and NSPCC figures show that only 2% of young witnesses currently receive support from registered intermediaries.

The huge volume of unreported allegations against Savile demonstrates how many young people are frightened to come forward and talk about their experiences, the MPs said.

And the recent suicide of the musician Frances Andrade is also a stark reminder of how vulnerable some victims who give evidence against abusers in court can be, they added.

Ms Blackwood is MP for Oxford West, where nine men are currently on trial accused of grooming and exploiting children.

The men, from Oxford and Berkshire, deny 51 counts relating to girls aged between 11 and 15 from 2004 to 2012.

Ms Blackwood, who is also a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, said: "While evidence has to be properly tested in court, I have seen first-hand the agony of a fragile young witness doing her best keep it together enough to describe, to a roomful of men in wigs, the violent sexual abuse she was subjected to for most of her childhood.

"All too often what follows next is aggressive cross examination to cast the witness as a liar, a prostitute, promiscuous, asking for it, or responsible for her own abuse.

"It doesn't have to be like that. Specialist courts can offer wrap-around support for witnesses while still delivering fairness to defendants. If the court process is less traumatising more victims will come forward, fewer investigations will collapse and more prosecutions will be successful."

The amendments have attracted support from around 100 MPs across all political parties.

Alan Wardle, NSPCC's head of corporate affairs, backed calls for specialist court sittings, led by trained judges.

He said: "We need a criminal justice system that actively encourages child victims to come forward, has the well-being of child victims at its heart and ultimately ensures that justice is done."

PA

Arts and Entertainment
TV Review: Sabotage, a meltdown and, of course, plenty of sauce
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
i100'Geography can be tough'
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Louis van Gaal looks dejected after Manchester United's 4-0 defeat by MK Dons on Tuesday night
sport
News
Actor, model and now record breaker: Jiff the Pomeranian
Video
News
REX/Eye Candy
science
News
i100
News
Down time: an employee of Google uses the slide to get to the canteen
scienceBosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
News
i100
News
In Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind Jim Carrey and Kate Winslett medically erase each other from their memories
scienceTechnique successfully used to ‘reverse’ bad memories in rodents could be used on trauma victims
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Pixie Lott will take part in Strictly Come Dancing 2014, the BBC has confirmed
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Primary Teacher

£90 - £135 per day + travel expenses: Randstad Education Newcastle: Key Stage ...

Humanities Teacher

£100 - £150 per annum: Randstad Education Leeds: Permanent Teacher of Humaniti...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher r...

Primary Teaching Supply

£130 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Qualified KS2 Supply Teacher re...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?