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Child Sexual Exploitation (Evidence)

Volume 566: debated on Tuesday 9 July 2013

10. What special measures he is considering to help vulnerable minors give evidence in child sexual exploitation cases. (163827)

The Government have announced that they will pilot the video pre-recording of the cross-examination of witnesses, as outlined in the Ministry of Justice’s “A Strategy and Action Plan to Reform the Criminal Justice System”, published on 28 June. The strategy and action plan includes other important measures, including reviewing how we might reduce the distress caused to some victims by cross-examination, particularly where multiple defence barristers are involved. On 11 June, the CPS published, for consultation, its new interim guidelines on prosecuting cases of child sex abuse, which set out a new approach, including challenging myths and stereotypes, if raised in court, about how the victim behaves.

I congratulate my right hon. and learned Friend and the Director of Public Prosecutions on the way in which they have enacted the child sexual exploitation action plan to make it more sympathetic and sensitive to witnesses who are often vulnerable and traumatised. Does he agree that one of the most intimidating processes is where multiple barristers act for gang members, as we have seen recently, re-traumatising very vulnerable victims by getting them to go through all their processes over and over again? Will he tell us specifically how he thinks we can still make sure that justice is done, both to the victim and to the defendant?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue, which is very much a matter of two things: professional standards on the part of the advocates; and proper case management by the judge. Judges need to be proactive in these cases. In addition, The Advocate’s Gateway, which has been introduced, makes clear the responsibilities that lie on counsel in approaching cases of this kind. I am confident that we will make a lot of progress in this area, and I think the rules will be progressively tightened to achieve the impact and result he desires.