Select Committee on Home Affairs Memoranda


Submitted by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CA 220)

  Sexual Offences constitute a very significant percentage of all the applications received by the Commission. Some provisional statistics, extracted from a quick review of 612 applications received between 31 March 2001 and 16 January 2002, detailed 842 separate offences and 1,386 counts. The Sexual Offences among them were as shown.

Sexual Offences

Number of Offences

Percentage of All Offences

Number of Counts

Percentage of All Counts

Indecent Assault















Totals =





  Among these cases are sexual offences against children. They can be subdivided into categories such as familial offences and sex offences in children's care homes. The Commission is developing a unique database on such cases, but has reviewed too few involving abuse in children's homes (less than a dozen) to distinguish any particular pattern.

  In the future, it may be possible to distil information from the growing case database that will assist other stakeholders in the criminal justice system, but the Commission has two more immediate concerns relating to the review of such cases when miscarriages are suspected: first, they usually offer little or no opportunity to discover new evidence or argument and, secondly, the case has often been decided by choosing between accounts from the complainant and the accused, with little or no corroborative evidence.


  In the Autumn of 2001, the Commission set up a Working Group to analyse and refine its approach to child sex abuse cases. It consists of two Commission Members, four Case Review Managers and the Commission's Investigations Adviser, and has the following brief:

    (a)  to identify the investigative approaches available, by analysing cases and their outcomes;

    (b)  to establish best practice from these cases, and to ensure its adoption throughout the Commission;

    (c)  to investigate any developments that might discover new evidence in such cases; and

    (d)  to communicate any useful lessons obtained to other stakeholders.

  The Working Group is in contact with relevant experts, to keep abreast of forensic science, and medical, psychological and other research that might enhance the Commission's investigative approaches to such cases.


  Current approaches result in few occasions when new evidence is discovered that presents a real possibility that the Court of Appeal would quash a conviction. The Commission has, however, sometimes been able to find new evidence in cases of child sex abuse. Some idea of the disparate lines that a reviewer should bear in mind, and may need to explore when a miscarriage of justice is suspected, will be appreciated from the following examples. They are drawn from the Commission's case reviews:

Elements of Trials/Appeals:

  Case A:  Examination of Social Services files showed a complainant to have been displaying highly sexualised behaviour before the alleged offence, and to have made unfounded allegations against others.

  Case B:  Examination of medical records not disclosed at trial showed a complainant to have given contradictory accounts of visits to a doctor and the reasons for them.

  Case C:  Expert medical evidence of sexual abuse was shown, on further analysis, to be flawed.

  Case D:  A key witness who claimed to have overheard the abuse was subsequently discovered to be unreliable.

  Case E:  A complainant who had been found to be a victim of multiple abusers raised doubts about the credibility of her evidence by post-trial allegations about very many other abusers.

Elements from Other Trials/Appeals:

  Case F:  A complainant was shown to have given accounts in another trial, and subsequently to the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board, that were inconsistent.

  Case G:  A complainant gave identical accounts of the offences in trials of two different defendants.


  The Commission's task in reviewing cases is always to consider the safety of the conviction by examining the evidence offered, including any bearing on the credibility of complainants. "Trawled" cases have attracted widespread comment and criticism. In particular, the practice of trawling has been questioned, the time between the alleged offences and complaints may be many years, and the complainants may be considered to be unreliable.

  Few of those convicted as a result of trawls have applied to the Commission. Those who have applied have done so fairly recently. The resulting fragmentary evidence does not demonstrate a causal link between trawling and miscarriages of justice, or any other pattern. If the situation changes, the Commission will communicate that fact to its stakeholders.

April 2002


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