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Child Abuse (Prosecutions)

Volume 584: debated on Tuesday 8 July 2014

The Crown Prosecution Service prosecutes child abuse cases robustly. In 2013-14, the number of such prosecutions rose by 440 to 7,998, with a conviction rate of 76.2%. Steps to prosecute the cases include piloting pre-recorded cross-examination of children, prioritising cases involving children aged 10 and under, and applying a new approach to child sexual abuse cases generally.

I am grateful for that answer. The Director of Public Prosecutions recently announced a series of measures regarding cases of rape because of the decline in referrals from the police to the CPS. Will such measures be considered in cases of child sex abuse, given that there has been a decline in referrals of such cases from the police to the CPS since 2010-11?

The emerging evidence is that the referrals are beginning to increase, which is good news. However, there are new guidelines, issued last October, for child sex abuse cases, which provide that there should be specialist prosecutors; a focus on the allegation, not the victim: early third-party material; and a challenging of myths and stereotypes.

Given that historic child abuse cases are being revisited because there is a chance of successful prosecution, can the Solicitor-General clarify the policy of his office and of the CPS on the destruction of documents, and what has been the policy over the years?

As my right hon. Friend will know, the Home Secretary announced yesterday an inquiry that will look into the way in which paedophilia and institutions have operated. A separate inquiry, which he knows about, is looking into the documents and dossiers, including those of my former hon. Friend Geoffrey Dickens. A lot of work is being done to discover the history. As far as the present situation is concerned, the Government are for maximum security and care in looking after documents and want to see transparency in everything they do.

May I press the Solicitor-General on that answer? He is aware that there is acute public concern at the suggestion that Government Departments, particularly the Home Office but also the Director of Public Prosecutions, failed to act on a series of child abuse allegations brought to their attention by the late Geoffrey Dickens MP. It has been reported that although documents outlined in those allegations were presented to the DPP in 1983, the CPS can no longer locate them. The Home Secretary has instigated an inquiry, but perhaps the Solicitor-General can clarify a couple of matters now.

What is CPS policy on document retention from the DPP’s office in the early 1980s, and does the apparent disappearance of the documents suggest that an exception was made to that policy, or was it breached? What explanation has the Solicitor-General received about the absence of the files? What steps has the CPS taken to try to recover the documents, and can he say what action, if any, was taken regarding the allegations by the DPP or the CPS in 1983 or at any time thereafter?

The hon. Lady does always have the alternative recourse of an application for an Adjournment debate.

Indeed, but this can be dealt with now. What I was gently, diplomatically, politely suggesting to the hon. Lady was that one question ordinarily suffices, and it is not necessary to have five in one go.

I do not think I will be able to answer all those questions, but I will certainly write to the hon. Lady when I have reflected on all the detailed points she made.

I want to make the point that the sort of decisions made in 1970 or 1998 occurred under a very different approach from the courts. I think the hon. Lady would accept that since that time the maximum sentences for indecent assault have been increased; the way in which corroboration is dealt with by the courts has changed; and the ways in which character evidence and historical allegations are looked at have changed. For now, I would say that in the current situation the Crown Prosecution Service makes the prosecution of these cases a top priority, and there are new guidelines and all the sorts of approaches I have already mentioned. We are living in a very different world, but I will write to her on the detailed points.

If lawyers were paid by the word, they would be multi-millionaires by now. I would like to get through a bit more, preferably with the co-operation of the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr Heath), in the form of an exceptionally pithy question.

Will Law Officers take every available step to ensure that public servants and former public servants are not prevented, by terms of severance agreements or the Official Secrets Act, from providing information on which the inquiry is contingent?

As the Home Secretary said yesterday, it is the Government’s intention to have a transparent inquiry, and the Attorney-General’s office stands ready to support that.