The stories continue. Barristers accused of hectoring children, prolonging their agony in a wholly indefensible way. And all this despite great improvements in practice, technique and understanding.
I wonder whether we can change the system even more radically.
Why does the child even have to come to court?
For these purposes, I mean anybody under the age of 14.
What if a nice friendly vehicle stopped outside the child’s house with a satellite link and plenty of cuddly toys. The sort of vehicle that travels to outside broadcasts every Saturday throughout the land. Inside, well converted, it is every bit as comfortable as the rape suites we have become accustomed to seeing on the DVD.
And if that sounds off the wall, why not bring the link inside into the room in which the child is most comfortable. A small portable camera and microphone, manned from the van.
Yes of course the parents cannot be sitting beside the child, but a very friendly mobile witness support lady will be.
Of course all that takes money. But it might be worth a pilot study to see whether we can end the unnecessary ordeal of making young children travel miles from their homes to a strange room in a strange court. Mobile justice – maybe your time has come.
Fortunately recent authority has made it much easier for defence counsel to fulfil their duty
by not requiring every detail to be put to the child. But we still have some way to go to raise our standards to the only level that matters: that the experience of children reliving their agony should not enhance it. If any counsel in any sex case over which I am presiding raised their voice once to a child, I would send the jury out and deliver them a bollocking that they would never forget.
But here is the good news. Up and down the land, young and more experienced counsel increasingly are performing this very difficult job with great skill and sympathy. I can speak directly of cases which I have tried recently where the standards have been quite superb. It is an imperfect system and I would like to see big changes to improve it, but let no one criticise barristers unfairly as they seek to square the circle in the best interests of their client and the children they have the duty to question.
For here is the bottom line. Most children are telling the truth when they allege sexual abuse.
Yes they are and we know it. But we have to have a system which Is sufficiently robust and fair to deal with those who are not.