“If we do not change the way we use this material in court we risk inviting a torrent of new claims. Our enemies will begin to realise that our justice system is an open goal and come rushing with spurious claims knowing the Government will have to pay out. Even more serious, genuine claimants have no hope of getting their claims properly examined.”
So spake Robert Buckland, the MP for Swindon, a part-time judge and a member of the Commons Justice Select Committee.
It is good to know that someone is aware of the dangers to the British purse if we mess with the historic rules of Justice. The Tax payers Alliance is up in arms too:
“It is extremely worrying if that problem is getting worse, and more claims are coming in. It makes it clearer than ever that action is needed so that taxpayers’ money is not paid out unnecessarily.”
They are of course, speaking of the danger inherent in a system which seeks to pay out compensation to ‘alleged’ victims in an out of court settlement rather than go to the expense, and face the difficulties of testing evidence in court – but only where those alleged victims are nasty alleged terrorists that nobody has any sympathy for.
A pity that our politicians and the Tax payers Alliance are not equally incensed by the prospect of genuine victims of sexual abuse getting their claims properly heard amongst the torrent of ‘Savile’ related claims that are currently fueling the Paedo scare. There is every chance that BBC Licence fee payers will end up footing a multi-million pound bill as ‘closure’ for the emotive outpouring of hundreds of middle aged fantasists, among which there may even be some genuine cases of child abuse. Cases which will be treated with the same scorn by a public incensed to find that they are watching ‘The Great Escape’ for the fifth time that week, owing to the severe budget cuts imposed by a BBC seen as an ‘open goal’….
It is a hypocrisy not far removed from that which allows us to munch on that nice fat cow with the big eyes, but recoil in horror at that thought of minced up Dobbin with the equally big eyes.
We have overdosed on emoting this week, with the sad news that Frances Andrade’s latest suicide bid was successful. I say ‘latest bid’, for buried in the media reports was the information that Frances had made six attempts on her own life in the previous months. The fact that the seventh and successful attempt coincided with her having given evidence in the trial of Michael and Hilary Brewer a week beforehand on charges of historic sexual abuse led to claims that it was the interrogation by the Defence Barrister, Kate Blackwell QC, that was responsible for her death. Who would the media have blamed had any of the earlier attempts been successful? The teacher who had gone unbidden to the Police after she had learned that Frances had engaged in sexual activity with one or more of the Brewer’s at an age when she could not have given informed consent?
Frances was obviously deeply unhappy at the prospect of the forthcoming trial, as well she might be. 20, 30, and 40 years later, a lot of us (and a lot of rock groupies) may well be reflecting on sexual experiences that could be described as ‘sexual abuse’ on the grounds that we were not of an age to give informed consent. Although I did in fact wait until I was 16 to so do, I should be appalled if in conversation with a friend I had confided under aged sexual experiences – only to find that my ‘friend’ had marched off to the police and laid a formal complaint, leaving me forced to relieve those experiences in the full glare of publicity and the unforgiving nature of an adversarial court process.
Needless to say, Frances’ death was scarcely a day old before those who would dismantle our ancient system of Justice were out and about on the airwaves.
Sir, Is the present adversarial court system competent to handle sexual abuse offences? The recent tragic death of an abuse victim after a gruelling cross-questioning in court suggests not. The legal mind appears not to grasp the psychological complexities involved. The judge in this case emphasising that the defence barrister had acted entirely professionally suggests that there is little understanding of the pressing need for change. The adversarial court system is a strong disincentive for abuse victims to speak out. A society cannot be healthy when the law obstructs justice and truth.
Director, Accuracy About Abuse
We already have a system whereby alleged sexual abuse victims are given additional weight to their evidence by the so called ‘trawling method’ of bringing forward other complainants who may or may not be genuine, but the sheer weight of numbers is believed to overcome the historic need for corroborated evidence. The victim’s identity is shrouded in secrecy. They are allowed to give evidence via video link, or hidden behind a curtain. To say that we should dismantle the system by which the defence can rigorously examine the evidence for which his client is threatened with jail is a step too far. We are being groomed to accept it by the media though.
The problem lies partly in the fact that the media has groomed us to believe that the only help society can give victims of sexual abuse is either a highly publicised trial of the accused or a cheque in lieu of. It is a paltry sticking plaster for a deep wound, and one which says more about our need to feel that we are doing something than any genuine concern for the victims. How much better to put the money currently being consumed by highly paid lawyers, and funds for compensation payments, into dedicated mental health services? Both for the perpetrators and the Victims?
We are putting millions of pounds into giving Sky News footage of angry protestors kicking the sides of prison vans, yet precious few pennies into funding the sort of dedicated therapy that might do more good than forcing reluctant witnesses like Frances Andrade into feeding our apparently unremitting appetite for armchair emoting and righteousness.
It was the Barrister Helena Kennedy, QC, who was reported to have said even if the perpetrator is convicted victims do not always find relief: “Criminal processes do not provide the answer to individual pain.”
By all means rage at those individuals who prey sexually on children, they are undoubtedly criminally wrong; but do not be fooled into believing that you are really doing anything for their victims – though you might arguably be preventing another victim for the following x number of years. What the victims really need is care and compassion and dedicated psychotherapy in an intensely private setting, and that is something that as a society we seem to have no appetite to demand.
Last time I checked, there was but one such psychotherapist in the whole of Wales and her waiting list ran for years rather than months. In the meantime, her putative clients had to be ’counseled’ by a cheque through the post from the taxpayers of Britain via the Criminal Compensation Board.
Funding such a scheme properly rather than paying civil compensation would neatly remove the suspicion than some claimants are only interested in the cheque.