Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 940-959)



  940. I am going to ask a series of questions now on which I doubt whether I will get much sympathy from you. The reason for asking them is this. There are a large number of concerns that are being raised about a positive miscarriage of justice in terms of people being accused—ruined lives, ruined careers and everything. One of our concerns is to ensure that yes, we need a system which is fair to survivors of child abuse, victims of child abuse, but also a system which is fair to defendants and the accused as well. I think that if we do have that system, then it actually helps those making allegations of child abuse, rather than negates their position. So my first question is, would any of you be in favour of a statutory time limit on prosecution of child sexual offences—for example, some of these offences going back 20 years or 30 years—where real evidence, forensic evidence or whatever, is very difficult to get, and prosecutions are being brought on the weight of allegations rather than witnesses' or DNA evidence or anything else?
  (Ms Stone) If I might answer that question, we would absolutely not be in favour of statutory time limits being imposed on these matters. Children, vulnerable people in residential care settings, live very often in isolation, very often in situations where there is an overt culture of compliance within those organisations. People have very little faith in any complaints procedure, or any trust in anybody listening to them, believing them or acting on what is being said. Very often for the people we work with it is only when they are quite far removed from that situation, maybe some years down the line, that they feel confident enough to be able to talk about it—perhaps "confident" is not an appropriate word—but they feel able to discuss those matters. For some of them that might be five years, it might be ten years, it might be 15 years. I think it would be very unhelpful, for the victims or survivors of these abuses, to set a statutory time limit on it. That is our point of view.
  (Mr Frampton) It is like saying there should be a statutory time limit on murder, that you cannot bring a murder case. Someone has been destroyed inside. Is there a statutory time limit on rape?

  941. The difference with a murder case is that there may be forensic or DNA evidence that turns up much later.
  (Mr Frampton) Sorry, you have lost me.

  942. The difference with a murder case is it would only be brought 20 years later if there was DNA evidence or forensic evidence which became available because of new technology, yet in these cases of 20 or 30 years ago there are no witnesses, there is no forensic evidence, there is no DNA evidence. That is the difference.
  (Mr Frampton) There are, on occasions, witnesses and there is corroborative evidence, so it is still there. I think, as this Committee has already heard, there is no time limit on war crimes, and the only time limits in this country at this moment are in relation to very minor offences. It seems to me that care leavers, once again, are being discriminated against by society because of this portrayal that we are somehow criminals and that we are all young men—which we are not, there are men, women and they are not in prison; we have astrophysicists who are care leavers, we have pop singers, lecturers and social workers—maybe even an MP somewhere who was in care.

  943. I am not suggesting any different.
  (Mr Frampton) We are told that somehow these people are different and, therefore, they should not be trusted.

  Chairman: Can we just take it that everybody is opposed to a time limit, and then move on?

Mr Singh

  944. Is there anything you would like to do to encourage survivors of child abuse to come forward earlier than they maybe are doing? Is there anything you can suggest?
  (Mr Frampton) I think a public apology and a redress bill, and the Government opening up and taking up the whole issue; taking the issue out of the insurance companies' hands, and levying the insurance companies, if necessary, but get the co-operation of Barnados, NCH, the voluntary sector, local authorities, to deal with the problem as a whole. It is the social atmosphere which prevents people from coming forward; the fear of discrimination, the fear of isolation and the fear of humiliation. That can be changed if the social atmosphere is changed.
  (Ms Stone) People need to have faith and a belief in a system before they will use it. I think we are uniquely placed to change the system and make it more transparent and make it more open.

  945. How?
  (Ms Stone) By, as I said, putting into practice and putting into place the special measures of the Justice and Criminal Evidence Act, and putting money and resources behind that, so that that is not just a piece of paper, and it is not just a statute, so that every police authority and the Crown Prosecution Service and all those working in the criminal justice system apply those measures consistently, independently and fairly so that people who have experienced these dreadful crimes do have faith and confidence in a system that will provide justice for them and for the people that are alleged to have abused them.
  (Ms Reynolds) I just wanted to support that. If people feel that they are going to be believed and not feel that they themselves are going to be put on trial, as they do feel, there is more likelihood of people coming forward earlier, which would serve everyone's interests much better.

  946. There are many concerns about trawling, and suggestions that the police have, if not put words into the mouths of those making allegations, they have led them on. Do you think that tape-recording those interviews would be a hindrance?
  (Ms Reynolds) We have got these measures coming in next month, anyway. Witness statements can be recorded in this way. It probably would not be viable for every single contact to be recorded or on video, but that may simply be a question of practicalities and resources. In principle, there does not seem to be anything wrong with recording or video-recording.

  947. Should a survivor of child abuse be interviewed and tape-recorded on the first or second contact by the police? Do you think that may be a hindrance?
  (Mr Byrne) I certainly think that writing down everything that is said is blocking the natural flow of speech, but once you open up somebody and they say "I am ready to talk about these experiences and I am ready to talk about them now", in a way a tape-recording, if it is going to be used appropriately and if the individual survivor has confidence that it is going to be used for the good of justice, then I cannot—there was no feeling, especially from the guys that we work with, that there would be any problem at all. Anything to ensure that they are not accused of making it up; anything to protect themselves from being left wide open to allegations that they were somehow just puppets of the police to lock up these alleged child abusers. Let us make the system focused on the needs of the victims.

  948. Would you have any problems if we were to recommend that the identity of the accused remained anonymous until after the outcome of the trial?
  (Mr Frampton) I think this has to be considered on other issues, such as rape, child abuse and so forth. If it is particularly put against care leavers then I think it would be a very bad signal that that has been done specifically there. I would say, apart from that though, I am not exactly sure which would be the best way forward.

  949. Generally speaking, you would not be in favour of putting what you might see as hurdles in the way of people wishing to make allegations?
  (Mr Frampton) No.
  (Mr Byrne) If we are here to protect children, then as long as the children—if the individual who is being accused is currently in contact with children—are protected and we ensure that until either there is a conviction or there is an acquittal or there is no trial the children are protected and that the evidence is protected as well, I cannot see any problem with withholding it. I would hate to contaminate any evidence. Fire in Ice is so adamant that we do not contaminate by working because otherwise we are fighting against ourselves. It is in the interests of everybody to try to get the evidence as pure as possible so that, as I have been saying, the truth gets out, and the system needs to reflect that to do the best it can.

  950. Are there any suggestions you would like to make that have not been made yet? Is there anything for the future which you think would improve things?
  (Ms Stone) I think one of the things that is important—and perhaps I have said this already—is that everyone who is involved in the criminal justice system as well as the police and the Crown Prosecution Service do need to have a much greater awareness of the vulnerabilities and the damage that is caused to people who are going to be witnesses of the abuse that they have suffered in institutions, care homes and so on. They do need to work with organisations like ours to raise that awareness. The only other thing would be to maintain that special measures do have the resources to enable them to be put into place.
  (Ms Reynolds) It would be very helpful if all the public authorities are aware of the sensitivities of these cases and do treat people with sensitivity and respect. Secondly, I think, on the issue of compensation, there are some blocks to people who are entitled to receive compensation who may not get the full benefit of compensation. One is people who are on benefits, in which case the benefits are reduced.[2] Secondly, if people do have previous convictions, as the Committee has already heard, those payments are actually reduced or withheld. We do not believe that is right. If somebody has been a victim they are entitled to compensation.

  (Mr Byrne) Let us look at the barriers that prevent disclosure. Let us look at engaging with people who have experienced child abuse and find out why it has been so long between the crime being committed and the offence coming to light. Let us look at those barriers and tackle them. It is going to take money, it is going to take time and it is going to take consultation with people who you might want to talk to—in saying that, if you are saying "It is a bit risky, they might be a bit angry". Let us engage with people, because survivors can inform policy and can inform the decision-making process. We have proved that in Liverpool, where we have actually gone in there and we have talked about how we can protect children now and how we can look after the current children in care and link those two together. It is not just about angry people getting revenge, it is about trying to say "How can we best look after those vulnerable children in care" and, also, properly deal with the barriers that prevent disclosure.

  (Mr Frampton) I would agree with Teresa on the issue of compensation not being-means-tested. That is wrong because people can feel that they are being given something which is utterly token because they are given it and it is taken away. They are just as sour about society at the end of it. I think that that issue needs to be looked at by the Committee in relation to settlements. Also, I would like to see the Government take an initiative in relation to the lawyers in actually pulling lawyers together—in particular those who deal with care issues, whether it is children in care or whether it is people who have left care. The reason why we applaud Garsden is because there are too few lawyers who have a real understanding of care issues. Many care leavers get turned away by lawyers and solicitors' firms because they say they cannot handle them, despite the fact that there might be the money there. There is a low level of understanding in the legal field in relation to care issues. That is where we would like to see that helped, because we feel, on the legal side, we have only got a few people who have some little bit of expertise. Without that, the cases can go awry.


  951. Can I just pursue one point with you? We all agree, do we not, that taking up to eight years to settle a civil compensation claim—possibly on top of criminal proceedings—is bound to be extremely traumatic for the victims, quite apart from not being a sensible way of going about resolving this issue. We all agree about that, do we not?
  (Ms Reynolds) Yes.
  (Mr Byrne) Yes.

  952. If the Committee were to suggest ways of making a civil claim more difficult (not ruling it out), and focusing on, perhaps, dealing with these cases through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, albeit making some of the reforms that you have suggested, would that be a more satisfactory way?
  (Mr Frampton) No, because that would be discriminating against care leavers and children in care.

  953. Why would it be discriminatory?
  (Mr Frampton) Because other cases can take a long time in court as well, which are traumatic.

  954. What we have been told is that, in relation to compensation, Legal Aid is available only to personal injury cases, unlike nearly all other areas of compensation. So it is already discriminating in favour, actually, of these kinds of cases. If we suggested reducing them to the same playing field as other kinds of personal injury cases—ie, by making Legal Aid not available—so that the focus, instead, was on settling these matters in a shorter period through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, would that not be a more satisfactory way of dealing with this problem?
  (Mr Frampton) If people want their day in court they should have their day in court. They have got serious issues which they want to deal with in relation to individuals. It is not a question of the amount of compensation.

  955. Can we just confront that point. When you are talking about civil claims they are not actually going to have their day in court. The facts, on the whole, are not going to be picked over; they are liable to be dealt with in large blocks, as Mr Garsden told us, of 10-70 cases at a time, and it is liable to be in negotiation between insurance companies and lawyers. So it is not their day in court they are getting, it is largely about money. Is it not?
  (Mr Frampton) I do not think they are looking at it from the point of view of money when they enter those cases.

  956. Fine. If they are not, and if we all agree that it is extremely traumatic to stretch this out for years and years while lawyers and insurance companies argue, why not look for a system that avoids stretching it out for years and years?
  (Mr Frampton) Because people should have their legal rights. They have had the trauma already. If they are prepared to go for that—

  957. They would still have their legal rights, there would be nothing to stop a civil action taking place, it is just that the public would not fund it any more, as they do not in many personal injury cases.
  (Ms Stone) How would, in that case, a person with a learning disability, who is in receipt of benefits, fund such a claim, if there were no Legal Aid for them to be able to pursue their claim for justice through the civil courts?

  958. Their first port of call would not be through the civil courts. That is what takes seven or eight years, which we all agree is extremely traumatic. The first port of call would be the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. You would say, in answer to that, "Oh well, there are various problems with claiming from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority", but if there were to be reforms and we removed some of the problems—and you made some suggestions—would that not meet your point?
  (Ms Stone) Providing that does not disadvantage people. No system is perfect and it is probable that there are reforms that could be made in all the systems that we have talked about. There is an argument, of course, that one of the ways to make systems safer for children and for vulnerable people is to make it less expensive for local authorities and care providers to provide safer settings, so that they would not fall prey to large claims of compensation against them. It would actually be cheaper to provide better care.

  959. Yes, sure.
  (Ms Stone) So we start from the point of making the system safer. That has to be better for all the concerned people living in the homes.


2   Note by witness: Compensation is regarded as capital when assessing entitlement to means-tested benefits. This can result in a person's benefits being reduced or withdrawn if s/he is awarded compensation. Back

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