Vulnerability among child sex abuse victims should no longer be a barrier to justice, the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, has declared as he unveiled new guidelines for handling cases.
Victims will in future be told that other complaints have been made against suspects “to strengthen their resolve to continue with the criminal process”.
Detectives and prosecutors will also be reminded that “reluctance to co-operate with those in authority, failure to report allegations of abuse swiftly” and providing inconsistent accounts are not uncommon patterns of behaviour for child sex abuse victims.
The new guidelines are a joint response by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and police to the investigation into Jimmy Savile and a series of high-profile child sex grooming cases.
“Vulnerability can no longer be a barrier to justice and I want to see prosecutors actively challenging any misconceptions a jury might have,” Starmer announced.
Chief Constable Dave Whatton, the police’s leading officer on violence and public protection, said: “This consultation is a moment to reflect on how we can deliver the best for victims of child sexual abuse.”
The CPS currently takes to court between 4,000 and 5,000 cases of child sex abuse. Around 75% result in convictions.
The new guidelines could result in a flood of new cases entering the criminal justice system. A joint police/CPS panel has been established to consider complaints about past cases where either prosecutors or detectives declined to continue with investigations. The panel is already looking at claims by four individuals.
The new CPS guidelines will require all child sex abuse cases to be dealt with by specialists in rape and serious sexual offences.
There will be earlier consultation on cases between the police and CPS.
Victims will be given more support. “There is no bar to a victim seeking pre-trial therapy or counselling and neither police nor prosecutors should prevent therapy taking place prior to a trial,” the guidelines state.
On informing victims about suspects, they say: “There is no rule which prevents victims being told that they are not the only ones to have made a complaint of abuse.
“Victims can be told that the suspect has been the subject of complaints by others. Doing so may strengthen their resolve to continue their engagement with the criminal process.
“But this should usually only be done after the victim’s account has been given and details of other allegations should not be disclosed.”