Wednesday, 7 August 2013

More training for barristers, judges, and protection of victims of abuse is needed

Snaresbrook Crown Court
It seems that the media's thirst for abuse stories is unquenchable. Every day we hear about another aspect. Sentences of paedophiles are too lenient, and barristers are making insulting remarks to child witnesses in abuse cases. I am about to give an interview to Smooth FM in which I will give my opinion on the story which made headlines this morning.

A 41 year old man who abused a child of 13, denied his guilt, and made the victim give evidence. He was convicted and given an  8 month suspended sentence at Snaresbrook Crown Court.

The prosecuting barrister called her predatory when addressing the court.Charities have made the very good point that if the man was 41 and the girl 13, then there is no doubt who was the predator.

The Attorney General is looking at the sentence, and considering whether it was so lenient that it needs to be referred to the Court of Appeal.

The Bar Council have commented that they hold training courses for barristers to make sure that they behave properly, and respect the wishes of victims, which is laudable.

Victims of abuse find it very difficult to come forward, and the law has moved a long way in this direction since I was first involved in this subject back in 1994. Vulnerable adults now enjoy the same protection as children, which is a move in the right direction.

Why a member of the Crown Prosecution Service should criticise his own witness, and call her predatory, when he is on the side of the witness is difficult to understand. Presumably he must have been asked to comment by the judge?

The Defendant is said to have thought that the girl was older than she was. The judge took into this into account when passing sentence.

At one time it was not possible to refer lenient sentences to the Court of Appeal, whereas now it is. The rights of the individual have become much more important than the interests of the state in an increasingly consumer orientated world.

Human Rights are now much more ingrained in our legal system, despite complaints by politicians, who maintain they interfere with the sovereignty of parliament. Personally I think it provides much needed balance to a previously precedent led system.

What do I think? I am very much in favour of protecting the rights of the victim, who usually has much less power than others, be it their abuser, parents, policemen, courts, government, or school. Balance of power, however is fundamentally important in a civilised society.

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