Select Committee on Home Affairs Fourth Report


138.  Few would dispute the claim that child abuse allegations require careful and sensitive investigation. We believe, however, that when those allegations relate to long past events, the investigation should proceed with caution. Although some guidance has already been produced, there remains a need for clear set of prescriptive guidelines, governing the conduct of police investigations and subsequent prosecution proceedings. In particular, there is an urgent need for the proper recording—either visual or audio—of police interviews of complainant and other significant witnesses. Prosecutions could also be improved by stronger partnerships between the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, with early consultation on the conduct and direction of investigations.

139.  Given the prejudicial nature of these offences, and the serious evidential difficulties, we believe there is a strong case for establishing special safeguards for trials in historical child abuse cases. Although we reject the proposal for a statutory time limit, we believe that some form of time limitation is necessary. For this reason, we have recommended that, after a period of ten years, prosecutions should only proceed with the court's permission.

140.  The use of similar allegations, as evidence to corroborate a charge, is a particularly sensitive issue. However, given the dangers of prejudice, we believe it is necessary to tighten the rules for excluding such evidence, so that 'similar fact' evidence is only admitted if it bears a striking similarity to the evidence relating to the charged offence. This should, we believe, be accompanied by a presumption in favour of ordering separate trials, in cases where there is no striking similarity between the counts of abuse listed on the indictment.

141.  The potential for compensation to act as an inducement for giving false or exaggerated evidence during investigations of this kind, is another area of real concern. To minimise this risk, we have recommended that the working relationship between personal injury solicitors and the police be guided by a 'model relationship', to be drawn up by the Home Office. We believe that the simplest and quickest (and thereby least traumatic) route to compensation, is via the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority and we hope that the Authority will seek to revise its rules and procedures to make the Scheme more attractive to victims of past childhood abuse.

142.  We are conscious of the fact that many of these recommendations are simply closing the door after the horse has bolted. All the more important, therefore, that the Criminal Cases Review Commission and the appeal court take a robust approach to the review of suspected wrongful convictions. In the meantime, much can be done to improve the conduct of future investigations and prosecutions.



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