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Consultation on the interim guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sexual abuse - Summary of Responses

Contents

Published 17 October 2013

Introduction

This is a summary of responses to the three month public consultation undertaken by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on the Interim Guidelines on Prosecuting Cases of Child Sexual Abuse.

It sets out:

  • the background to the consultation
  • changes made to the guidelines
  • an overall summary of the responses
  • a summary of the responses to the specific consultation questions and;
  • our conclusions.

Background

On 11 June 2013, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) launched a consultation on the 'Interim Guidelines on Prosecuting Cases of Child Sexual Abuse'.

These guidelines were produced to assist prosecutors dealing with such difficult cases, making it clear that the focus for prosecutors must be on the credibility of the overall allegation being made; and underline that the task is to build strong cases by linking evidence rather than failing to bring cases because of perceived weaknesses in the victim. In order to get a wide range of views on this important issue, we consulted publicly on the guidelines, which we initially issued on an interim basis.

The consultation was preceded by a series of roundtable meetings to inform the drafting of the guidelines. These roundtables were attended by police, lawyers, judiciary, academics, victims' representatives, experts, social services and other stakeholders with an interest or expertise in criminal justice. The detailed discussions helped to inform the interim guidelines and ensured we had guidance that has been widely welcomed.

As part of the consultation, respondents were asked to answer six questions. The consultation period ended on 3 September 2013. A small number of responses were received after this date and were given full consideration. All replies have been included in this summary of response. A list of respondents can be found at Annex A of this document. We are grateful to everyone who took the time to respond to this consultation.

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Changes made to the guidelines

In light of the responses received following the consultation, we have revised the guidelines following further consideration. The interim guidelines have now been replaced by the final guidelines which come into effect on 17 October 2013.

The changes include:

Myths and stereotypes: A new annex sets out the most common myths and stereotypes in child sexual cases so that prosecutors can challenge them if they arise in court.

Adult victims of sexual abuse in childhood: A number of responses thought there should be an explicit reference and text on adult 'survivors' and we amended the guidelines so it is clear that many of the same considerations and approach will apply to adult victims of sexual abuse in childhood.

Human Trafficking: Included reference to trafficking because of its links and crossover with child sexual exploitation and so we have amended the guidelines to include references and clear links to the current CPS guidance on Human Trafficking.

Offenders exerting control over victims: We have strengthened the contents in respect of offenders exerting control over victims. We now include references to control through threats to publish pictures of the victim naked; implicating the victim in other criminal activity; and especially with victims from some BME communities, through using threats about the shame and damage to the honour of their family.

Parents/Guardians: It is now clearer that parents and guardians, where appropriate, have an important role to play supporting the victim and they should be advised at the outset what to expect and offered support. (It would be inappropriate where a parent or guardian is implicated in the allegations).

Identifying further evidential considerations: Reference is now included to possession of indecent images of children, use of CCTV footage, car number plate recognition, and understanding the wider context through investigators talking to friends and peers of the victim as relevant evidential considerations.

Victim Personal Statement: There is new text about ensuring a Victim Personal Statement has been offered and that victim is clear what is required and how it will be used.

Drafting changes: Some of the terms used in the interim guidelines were criticised and so drafting changes have been made to address concerns expressed about e.g. references to 'relaxation' and 'mature and streetwise' in this context.

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Overall summary of responses

We received a total of 101 responses to the public consultation. They were as follows:

Table 1: Table of respondent type

Summary of Respondents

Category of Respondent Number
Public Sector 20
Organisations (including victims' groups) 41
Academics 7
Legal profession 5
Individuals 28
Total 101

Not every respondent gave specific answers to each individual question in the consultation. Each individual response has been carefully reviewed by the CPS Strategy and Policy Directorate. Not all respondents followed the specific questions posed in the consultation, but their views were considered.

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Responses to specific questions

QUESTION 1: Do you agree with the new approach of the CPS to cases involving child sexual abuse?

There were 97 responses to this question. The overwhelming majority welcomed the overall approach taken by the CPS with two respondents saying that 'it was clear and comprehensive and sets out a positive, proactive and collaborative approach to dealing with CSA cases', and that it provided an opportunity to develop a consistent criminal justice response to all forms of child sexual exploitation across the country.

There were some who thought there was confusion between the usage of the terms Child Sexual Exploitation (CSE) and Child Sexual Abuse (CSA). One respondent felt that the guidance should better distinguish between CSE and other forms of CSA.

Others felt that the guidance should include child victims of child trafficking and exploitation, whilst others felt that references to CSE should include gang-related and group-related CSE.

It was suggested that 'complainant' should be used instead of 'victim' and that the CSA Guidelines should be advertised more widely.

Two respondents, whilst agreeing with the approach, said the Guidelines were not clear on whether it included adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

One respondent suggested the police and the CPS should receive the same mandatory training, whilst another suggested that case studies should be included in the guidelines.

CPS response

We are very pleased that the general response to this question was so positive. We have considered the suggested comments and clarified particular issues as well as the acknowledgement that CSA takes many different forms including gang-related and group-related sexual abuse to reflect the breadth of offending in this area. We have also revised the terminology where references are made to 'age-appropriate' to include 'developmentally appropriate language' as language to be used by Intermediaries when working with victims.

With regard to the specific suggestion in relation to the inclusion of information relating to human trafficking involving children, we are of the view that the CPS guidance on Human Trafficking addresses the comments raised. However, we acknowledge the specific links that human trafficking has to CSE and therefore have included cross references to our separate work and guidance on human trafficking to avoid duplication but ensure they are linked.

We have retained the term 'victim' throughout the document and not used the suggested alternative 'complainant', to ensure consistency with the the legal guidance produced by the CPS.

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QUESTION 2: Is it right that we should focus on the overall credibility of the allegation rather than the victim?

The response to this question was positive by nearly everyone who responded. Specific supporting comments included:

'yes absolutely because of post-traumatic stress disorder effects a victim of abuse suffers and the grooming processes, it can be very difficult for them to extradite themselves from the actual abuse'

'yes nearly all victims of child sexual exploitation are vulnerable to stereotyping...We would welcome a stronger focus on the allegation and investigation itself and less emphasis given to the victims' history'

'a victim's behaviour before, during or after abuse is totally irrelevant to the fact that abuse has taken place'

'the advice contained within the document is very positive; ...We very much support the “merits based approach” of how to approach the evidential stage of the Code in that even though past experience might tell a prosecutor that juries can be unwilling to convict in cases'.

It was felt by one respondent that our focus also helps to retain the credibility of the prosecution process.

Another respondent, however, stated that our approach was wrong in principle and that the credibility of the accusation cannot sensibly be divorced from the credibility of one who makes it. Whilst another respondent voiced a cautionary note that it would be a backward step if the focus on the credibility of the allegation led to issues directly concerning the credibility of the complainant not being properly investigated.

A further concern was voiced that prosecutors do not overlook the credibility of the complainant.

One respondent was of the view that looking at the credibility of the allegation would encourage more victims of CSA to come forward.

CPS response

We are pleased by the endorsement that the focus should be on the credibility of the allegation rather than the victim.

As prosecutors we have to ensure that there must be sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and that a prosecution is required in the public interest. When assessing credibility we should take into account the vulnerability that often prevails. In changing the focus that is mainly victim specific to one that more critically tests the account of the suspect, whilst at the same time working harder to explore patterns of behaviour and where appropriate links to other cases, a more balanced approach is achieved.

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QUESTION 3: While the list of criteria for the suspects is non-exhaustive, have we got the factors right (see paragraph 63)?

There were 91 responses to this question with the vast majority of respondents agreeing with the factors listed and acknowledging that the list is non-exhaustive.

In the main it was felt that the factors outlined are appropriate and relevant to assist with a balanced decision making process.

Others suggested additional considerations for suspects could be included in the guidelines such as where the suspect has indecent images of children on a personal computer or a mobile phone.

It was suggested by one respondent that the criteria should not be used to bolster a weak case.

It was felt by one respondent that the guidelines should include and reflect the increasing use of social media and the potential evidence it offers.

Another respondent agreed that the factors are correct and added that interfamilial sexual abuse should be given the same priority as child exploitation.

CPS Response

On consideration of the responses and suggestions received to this question we have now included the following additional evidential considerations and case building issues:

  • possession of indecent images of children on personal computer or phone;
  • use of CCTV footage;
  • car number plate recognition; and
  • the obtaining of relevant information from friends of the victims and their peer group.

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QUESTION 4: Would it be helpful to have an Annex setting out 'myths and stereotypes' surrounding this type of offending? If so, please provide details of 'myths and stereotypes' that would be useful in the circumstances.

TThere was very strong support for including an annex of myths and stereotypes surrounding this type of offending in the CSA Guidelines stating:

'we do believe that it would be useful to include similar advice in an annex to Chapter 17 – the Trial of Sexual Offences – in the Crown Court Bench Book'

'we support the provision of an annex setting out 'myths and stereotypes surrounding this type of offending'

'we believe that it would be a helpful...This would be the starting point for understanding and challenging misconceptions held by some jurors which defence counsel may exploit'

'examples from recent cases that will be familiar would be useful'

'it would be helpful to set out some 'myths and stereotypes' for CPS staff and external counsel to consult before any court appearance in child sex abuse cases. There is a danger that any list would be viewed as exhaustive and prosecutors would therefore dismiss other myths and stereotypes not included that present in their casework, so any list would need to make clear that it was not a definitive list'

'including myths and stereotypes would be useful, particularly in relation to child victims of sexual exploitation who are often misperceived as being to blame for their own abuse'

Three respondents felt that an annex outlining myths and stereotypes would not be useful, with one commenting that this should be left to the discretion of the judge.

Other respondents thought the list provided on the CPS website is a good start and two respondents felt that jurors in these types of cases should also have a copy of this list of myths and stereotypes.

A few respondents mentioned the usefulness of the Crown Court Bench Book list of myths as a good point of reference.

Two respondents stated that myths and stereotypes in relation to diverse communities could usefully be included. Two respondents felt that the myths and stereotypes did not refer to diverse and Black and Minority Ethnic communities and suggested that reference be included in the list.

CPS response

In light of the overwhelming consultation support for an annex on myths and stereotypes, we will have now included one within the guidelines.

Many examples of myths and stereotypes were provided from a range of respondents and it is has not been possible to include them all. The annex prepared is a non-exhaustive list of the common myths and stereotypes around this offending.

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QUESTION 5: What more can the CPS do to support the victim and witnesses through the court process?

There was an acknowledgement in the large majority of the 93 responses received on this question that the CPS is already doing much to support victims and witnesses throughout the criminal justice process. One respondent suggested that the CPS should investigate historical allegations by adults and understand why it takes an adult so long to come forward to report the matter to the police.

One respondent commented on the need to ensure that prosecution witness warning letters detail only those counts on the indictment relating to the particular victims, and this was also mentioned in other comments contained in the consultation responses.

A number of suggestions were made which included the need to extend the role of witness support post-trial and the requirement for regular communication to the victim from the point of disclosure through to the court care and final disposal.

Other suggestions included the requirement for the Ministry of Justice to resource specialist court education and debriefing for child witnesses; the need to address the conduct of the defence barristers towards witnesses and reduce cross-examination; the requirement for specialist judicial training in this area; and the recommendation for ticketing of judges and the defence to conduct child sexual abuse trials.

It was also suggested that there should be a better focus on the use of special measures, the use of intermediaries and the use of ground rule hearings.

CPS response

The comments touch on issues which go beyond the role of the CPS and we are raising the specific comments provided with the National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People, which has been set up by the Home Office to co-ordinate and implement the learning from recent inquiries into historic child sexual abuse, child sexual exploitation and current sexual violence issues. The National Group in turn also supports the Criminal Justice Strategy and Action Plan, which includes a number of actions relevant to better treatment of victims and witnesses.

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QUESTION 6: Do you have any further comments on the Interim Guidelines on Prosecuting Cases of Child Sexual Abuse?

A range of comments on the Interim Guidelines were received which can be categorised into policy, procedure or practice.

The policy change recommendations included:

  • the requirement to introduce anonymity for defendants in criminal trials;
  • the suggestion that the Coroner's Court process is a useful model for adoption in CSA cases; and
  • the need to address jurisdictional issues where sexual offences are committed against children abroad by British offenders.

The procedural recommendations included:

  • the need to introduce a duty to disclose where the victim is undergoing counselling;
  • greater use of ground rules; and
  • and the need to use victimless prosecutions in CSA cases.

Other suggestions concerned with practice included:

  • ensure that the guidelines extend to adult survivors of CSA;
  • the inclusion of reference to the youth court;
  • drafting amendments to include 'age appropriate' and 'developmentally appropriate';
  • the role of the prosecutor should be clearly articulated in the Guidelines;
  • the requirement for trial data tracking by the Ministry of Justice;
  • better inter-agency collaboration around the welfare of the child;
  • the need to clarify the role of ISVAs;
  • extending the remit of these guidelines to all victims of sexual violence; and
  • wider publication of these guidelines.

One respondent stated that the successful functioning of the new guidelines is dependent on the performance of third parties external to the CPS.

CPS response

The comments touch on issues which go beyond the role of the CPS and we are raising the specific comments provided with the Home Office led National Group on Sexual Violence against Children and Vulnerable People. This National Group in turn links with the Criminal Justice Strategy and Action Plan, which includes a number of actions relevant to tackling CSA and the better treatment of victims and witnesses.

Conclusion

The CPS is grateful to all those who responded to the consultation and the time that they have invested in doing so. We have carefully considered all the responses received, and have taken them into account when revising the interim guidelines. We have made a number of changes in light of the consultation and they are now reflected in the final guidelines published on 17 October 2013.

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Annex A

Response to consultation

Individual Respondents

1. Julien Foster
2. Leslie Chinweze
3. Tim Barker
4. Victoria Haigh
5. Sarah Lasenby
6. Jo Dean
7. Mike Dean
8. Anna Kornas
9. Dr Jim Phillips
10. Ciaran Goggins
11. Stuart Robb
12. Dr Jeremy Dunning-Davies
13. Debbie Bridge
14. Sylvia Blayse
15. Anon
16. L. Thomson
17. Dr Peter Walters
18. Richard Strange
20. Carole Jahme
21. David and Barbara Williams
22. Mary Maguire
23. Huw Watkins
24. Robin Hodgson
25. Ogheneruona Iguyovwe
26. Christiane Hopkinson
27. Anon
28. Barbara Hewson

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Organisations

29. Kids for Cash
30. The Society for Apothecaries
31. The Blast Project
32. Arch
33. Rape Crisis, Tyneside and Northumberland
34. Family Matters
35. ECPAT (UK)
36. The Green House
37. Lexicon Limited
38. Ending Victimisation and Abuse
39. Rape Crisis, England and Wales
40. Rape Crisis Centre, Cambridge
41. British Association for the Study and Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect
42. False Allegations Support Organisation
43. Rights of Women
44. Barnardo's
45. Office of the Children's Commissioner
46. Children's Commissioner for Wales
47. Muslim Women's Network UK
48. Church Survivors
49. National Association for the Treatment of Abusers
50. NSPCC
51. NWG Network
52. NWG Team
53. NBCPA
54. CRASAC
55. National Union of Teachers
56. CAFCASS
57. Christian Medical Fellowship
58. National Association for People Abused in Childhood
59. Church of England and Methodist Church of GB
60. The Children's Society
61. Parents against Child Sexual Exploitation
62. Victim Support
63. British Association of Social Workers
64. The Association of Directors of Children's Services Ltd
65. Triangle
66. Eaves
67. Criminal Cases Review Commission
68. St Mary's Sexual Assault Referral Centre
69. Women's Aid Federation of England

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Public Sector

70. NHS Hants
71. Kent Police
72. HMCPSI
73. Norfolk Police
74. OPCC Cleveland
75. OPCC Cheshire
76. OPCC Lancashire
77. OPCC Derbyshire
78. OPCC Dorset
79. Ministry of Justice
80. Lancashire Constabulary
81. CPS London Scrutiny and Involvement Panel
82. Association of Police and Crime Commissioners
83. Child and Family Services, Swansea
84. Welsh Ambulance Services, NHS Trust
85. Oxfordshire County Council
86. ACPO Wales
87. Metropolitan Police Sexual Offences, Exploitation and Child Abuse Command
88. Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board
89. Buckinghamshire County Council

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Legal profession

90. The Law Society
91. Family Law Bar Association
92. Council of H.M. Circuit Judges
93. Justices' Clerks Society
94. Lewis Nedas Law

Academics

95. Kyrie James
96. Dr Emma Davies
97. Dr Camille Warrington
98. Carlene Firmin
99. Professor Phil Rumney
100. Laura Hoyano
101. Professor Julia Davidson

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