Select Committee on Home Affairs Fourth Report



Although we hold some reservations about the conduct of police trawls, we do not accept that trawling should be prohibited. The police have a statutory duty to investigate allegations of child abuse, regardless of whether they relate to contemporary or past events. In general, the longer the delay between the alleged offence and the allegation being made, the more difficult the investigation. We believe that senior officers should retain their discretion to determine the nature and scale of an investigation, particularly in complex investigations into past institutional abuse. In every case, however, there should be clear justification for the decision to launch a trawl (paragraph 26).




We take the view that any initial approach by the police to former residents, should—so far as possible—go no further than a general invitation to provide information to the investigation team. We invite the Association of Chief Police Officers to revise the internal police handbook for senior investigating officers, in order to set out clearly the terms of an initial approach to potential witnesses (paragraph 34).




We believe there is a strong argument, in cases of this kind, for introducing a general requirement to record police interviews of complainants and other significant witnesses on video or audio tape. Where a video-recording is impracticable, we recommend that the interview be recorded on audio tape, as a mandatory requirement (paragraph 45).




We recommend, that the Home Office issues a code of practice for the audio and visual recording of police interviews with complainants and other significant witnesses in cases of historical child abuse (paragraph 47).




We recommend that resources are channelled into researching and piloting the use of "statement validity analysis" as a tool for evaluating the credibility of witness testimony in complex historical child abuse cases (paragraph 50).




We would, encourage the Association of Chief Police Officers to distil the core recommended practices and procedures into a prescriptive list, to be included in the police handbook for senior investigating officers (paragraph 59).




We endorse the view that, where a trawl is conducted, complainants should be offered appropriate victim support services, such as counselling, from an early stage of their involvement in the investigation (paragraph 61).




In our view, the Crown Prosecution Service is presently faced with a difficult task when reviewing past cases of institutional child abuse. However, the sheer volume of such cases which are rejected by the CPS, seems to indicate that it is applying a sufficiently robust review to sift out weak cases. We are not persuaded that there should be a new test for Crown Prosecutors (in addition to the evidential and public interest tests) to require firm evidence, or a firm belief, that a crime has been committed for the prosecution to proceed. We, therefore, decline to recommend any changes to the Code for Crown Prosecutors (paragraph 70).




We note that failure to disclose evidence inconvenient to the prosecution case was a factor in many—if not most—proven miscarriages of justice and we express the hope that the recommendations made by these various studies are acted upon without delay. We look forward to hearing from the Home Office on this point (paragraph 72).


We welcome the proposal for a national protocol for the disclosure of third party material and hope to see its speedy delivery. In the longer term, we support Lord Justice Auld's recommendation for a new statutory scheme for third party disclosure, "to operate alongside and more consistently with the general provisions for disclosure of unused material". We again look forward to hearing what plans there are to implement Lord Justice Auld's recommendations on disclosure (paragraph 74).




Whilst we accept that the criminal justice system needs to be more sensitive to the needs of victims and witnesses, we are concerned that the proposed removal of safeguards for the defendant, set out in Justice for All, may further prejudice the defendant in historical child abuse trials. We are particularly concerned about the proposed relaxation of the rules of evidence, which may allow for greater admission of 'similar fact' evidence. In our view, given the sensitive and difficult nature of investigating allegations of historical child abuse, there is a strong case for establishing special or additional safeguards for the exclusion of prejudicial evidence and/or severance of multiple abuse charges (paragraph 83).




We are inclined to agree that the prosecution of offences relating to child abuse should not be time-barred. In our view, prosecution decisions should continue to be based on the merits of the case, having regard to public interest factors, such as delay. Whilst a limitation provision may protect innocent defendants from fabricated allegations that are difficult to refute, it may also prevent guilty defendants from being brought to justice. For these reasons, we decline to recommend the introduction of a statutory limitation period (paragraph 89).




We recommend that the prosecution of offences relating to child abuse, which is alleged to have occurred over ten years since the date of the offence, should only proceed with the court's permission. We suggest that the time period does not begin to run until the complainant has reached age 21 (paragraph 92).




We, recommend that the law of similar fact evidence is reformed to require a "striking similarity" in historical child abuse cases. We suggest that the law of severance is also reformed, to introduce a presumption in favour of severance in cases where the similar allegations are inadmissible on a similar fact basis (paragraph 97).




We suggest that the statutory reporting restrictions, which preserve the anonymity of victims of sexual offences, are extended to persons accused of historical child abuse. We believe that the restrictions should operate to protect the accused until the date of conviction, with provision to lift the restrictions by court order. Although there is a case for extending this recommendation to all sexual offences, for which the victim is granted anonymity, this goes beyond our remit for this inquiry (paragraph 99).




We are concerned that neither the internal police guidance, nor the Government guidance, on historical child abuse investigations, give any specific direction on the proper relationship between the police and personal injury solicitors. We recommend that the Home Office issues guidelines, which prescribe the elements of a 'model relationship'. We suggest that the Home Office act in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers to ensure consistency between the various guidance documents (paragraph 108).




We recommend that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority conduct a review of its Scheme, with a view to ensuring that it is sufficiently user-friendly and attractive to victims of past institutional child abuse (paragraph 115).




We would like to see a return to the legal position, pre-2001, when employers were not generally regarded as liable for sexual assaults committed by their employees, unless the employer was also at fault through his own negligence. To go back to this position would not, in any way, affect the liability of employers who were found to be negligent, nor would it prevent complainants from suing the alleged abuser directly, or from claiming compensation from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. For these reasons, we recommend that the Government gives serious consideration to the introduction of legislation to overturn the House of Lords' decision in Lister v. Hesley Hall Ltd, which—in our view—has broadened the scope of 'no-fault' (vicarious) liability too far (paragraph 121).




We are not persuaded that personal injury actions arising from historical child abuse should be excluded from public funding (paragraph 126).




We would invite the Association of Chief Police Officers to further revise the internal police handbook for senior investigating officers, with a view to minimising the risks of inducing false or exaggerated allegations. First and foremost, we believe that any practice by the police of offering, or acceding to requests for, mitigation in exchange for evidence against suspected child abusers in historical cases should be prohibited (paragraph 129).




We conclude—and this is a point that goes wider than simply historical child abuse cases—that the Commission's test for referral to the Court of Appeal is too narrow. We believe that the test should be broadened, to bring it into line with the test applied by the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission. We, therefore, recommend that the test is revised to allow the Commission to make a referral where they believe that a miscarriage of justice may have occurred and that it is in the interests of justice that a reference should be made (paragraph 137).



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