§ '(1) In any proceedings a video recorded interview with a witness under the age of 14 (other than the accused) shall be admissible as evidence of any fact of which direct oral evidence by him would be admissible as if made under section 38(i) of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
§ This section applies—
- (a) to an offence which involves an assault on, or injury or a threat of injury to, any person, or the death of any person; or
- (b) to a sexual offence; or
- (c) to an offence which consists of attempting or conspiring to commit, or of aiding, abetting, counselling, procuring or inciting the commission of, an offence falling within paragraph (a) or (b) above.
§ (3) In this section "sexual offence" means an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 1956, the Indecency with Children Act 1960, the Sexual Offences Act 1967, section 54 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 or the Protection of Children Act 1978.
§ (4) The Secretary of State shall make rules to provide—
- (a) that the interview shall be made as soon as is practicable after the alleged offence;
- (b) that the video recording of the interview is complete and accurate and has nothing added, omitted or altered; an edited copy of the video recording may be used with the consent of both prosecution and defence;
- (c) the interview shall be carried out by a fit person acceptable to the court.
§ (5) Before a video recording is used in evidence against any accused person he and or his legal representatives shall have the right to inspect and view it.
§ (6) Nothing in this section shall affect the right of cross-examination at the hearing by or on behalf of the party against whom the child gives evidence.
§ (7) Nothing in this section affects the rights of a judge to withdraw the case from the jury, or the duty of the judge to warn the jury of the danger of convicting uncorrobated evidence.
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
§ 7 pm
§ Mr. Speaker
With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 7—Use of live video links for remand proceedings—
- '(1) Where the accused is remanded in custody prior to committal proceedings under sections 5 and 10 of the Magistrates Court Act 1980, it shall be possible to hold "remand proceedings" by means of a live video link where all parties agree.
- (2) The court may give leave under subsection (1) above only if it is satisfied that the video link allows evidence to be given in a way which allows persons concerned in the case to see, hear and communicate with the accused.
- (3) Nothing in this section shall affect the right of the accused to appear in person at remand proceedings.'.
§ New clause 8— Evidence by children in relation to certain offences by use of live video links—951
§ '(1) A witness under 14 (other than the accused) may give evidence through a live video link in proceedings before a Crown Court on a trial on indictment where the offence is one charged in subsection (2) below. Such evidence may not be given without leave of the court.
§ (2) This section applies—
- (a) to an offence which involves an assault on, or injury or a threat of injury to, any person; or
- (b) to a sexual offence; and
- (c) to an offence which consists of attempting or conspiring to commit, or of aiding, abetting counselling, procuring or inciting the commission of, an offence falling within paragraph (a) or (b) above.
§ (3) In this section—
"sexual offence" means an offence under the Sexual Offences Act 1956, the Indecency with Children Act 1980, the Sexual Offences Act 1967, section 54 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 or the Protection of Children Act 1978.
§ (4) Where the court consider it necessary it may if it so wishes allow the questioning of the child to be conducted through a fit person other than the prosecution and defence counsel.
§ (5) The court may only give leave under subsection (1) above if it is satisfied that the video link allows evidence to be given in a way which allows all persons concerned in the case to see, hear and communicate with the witness.'.
§ Mrs. Golding
In moving new clause 6, I speak on behalf of young children in this country who are, or who have been, subjected to sexual abuse and violence. I speak also for those who are now adults but who have been scarred by the perverted desires of some men and women who abuse small children.
Our law has been described as a molesters' charter. Can any of us doubt that, when recent Childline statistics have spoken of up to 700 calls a day from children who need help? They are the young victims of violence and sexual abuse and they need the help of the law. They also need the help of this House. We must listen to them. We must no longer pretend that these young victims can be ignored by the law.
It does not bear thinking about that our own children, or grandchildren, might be the victims of child abusers who cannot be brought to trial. Why should we, as Members of Parliament, think that it is any easier for families in our constituencies when they see the law act in this foolish and uncaring way? Yes, we need to consider the accused and to protect their rights, but at what point does the molesters' charter consider the victim— the child?
The Bill certainly provides for the use of video evidence, but the Opposition believe that there is an overwhelming need for such an important provision— and the safeguards—to be clearly stated. As the Bill stands, that is not so. To that end, we have tried to take into account, when framing new clauses 6 and 8, all the objections that have been raised.
A video recording should he made as soon as practicable after an alleged offence. Nothing should be added; nothing should be omitted; and nothing should be altered. It should be made by a fit person—somebody who is acceptable to the court. Before it is used in evidence, the accused and their legal representatives should have the right to inspect and view the video recording. It would not affect the right to cross-examine at the hearing, or the right of the judge either to withdraw the case from the jury or to warn about uncorroborated evidence. A video recording is not a pre-trial hearing. It is a piece of evidence that is similar to any other evidence, and it is there to be either accepted or rejected by the jury.
952 It is important that the use of a live video link should be understood. The child will be in another room, outside the court, and will be accompanied by somebody w ho is acceptable to the court, such as a court attendant. The child will be able to see only the person who is speaking to him or to her—that is, one person at a time, be it the judge, or defence counsel or prosecution counsel. The child will be unable to see the accused or anybody else in the court who might be able to influence his or her evidence.
§ Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle)
The whole country is united in its abhorrence of this type of crime, but may I put a practical point to the hon. Lady that she ought to consider? I say this as one who has experience of the criminal courts in this country.
We agree with what the hon. Lady is trying to achieve, but her proposal may result in more acquittals of defendants. Counsel for the defendant would be able to say to the jury at the end of a trial that less weight should be given to the child's evidence because it had not been tested in open court. I think that the hon. Lady should address that difficult problem.
§ Mrs. Golding
I thank the hon. Gentleman. As I make progress with my speech, I think that he will see that we have considered that problem.
With a live video link, everybody in the court would be able to see the child and watch the child's face on the television screen. In video-link evidence, a court may, when it thinks fit under the terms of the new clause, allow the question to be putthrough a fit person other than the prosecution or defence counsels.That would be useful where very young children are involved who may have great difficulty in communicating.
Will video recordings and live video links increase the chance of wrongful convictions? I do not believe that they will. In seeking to find the truth, while protecting a child from undue influence, we are also seeking to guard the accused against wrongful conviction. A growing tide of people are no longer prepared to accept the law as it stands, and want to see it changed on this issue. I have received many telephone calls and letters of support. These have come from such organisations as the National Children's Bureau, the Police Federation, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. the Royal College of Nursing, from doctors, nurses, barristers, teachers, playgroup organisers and many people in all walks of life. Indeed, yesterday I received a telephone call from a group of women in Belfast who told me that they were about to go around the estate to collect a petition.
The usefulness of the provision of video recordings cannot be questioned. The Texas police on the BBC programme "Panorama" said that of 235 accused facing video evidence, 221 pleaded guilty after watching the video recording. That meant that 221 children were spared the ordeal of a court appearance and that the offenders could be identified and offered psychiatric help, which is very important when we consider that many of these offenders are often part of the same family.
With all this concern, will the Minister give the House some assurance that there will be specific provisions in the Bill about video recording? If he is not prepared to accept the new clause, he should tell the House where the proposals fall short of the Government's requirements. If 953 he will not make provision in the Bill, he should tell the House that the Government are not prepared to help those children who so desperately need our help.
New clause 7 deals with theUse of live video links for remand proceedings.The clause allows further use of the video system and allows it to be more cost-effective, with the saving of police and court time. I hope that the Government will consider the proposals, for which I have received much support from members of the legal profession.
§ Mr. Mellor
As I know that many hon. Members wish to speak in the debate, it might be helpful to the House if I explained the Government's position, so that those who speak subsequently will be able to do so knowing the context in which I believe the proposal should be viewed.
I want to begin by congratulating the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) on raising these issues, which I believe are of fundamental importance. I very much welcome the opportunity to debate these matters and hope that our discussions will have the widest currency, because I can think of few more useful tasks upon which Parliament can embark than considering this issue.
I want to set out what I believe would be the effect of the three new clauses. New clause 6 would allow statements made by a child under the age of 14 in a video-recorded interview to be admitted as evidence of the truth of their contents, where the child is a witness—either as a victim or otherwise—in a trial of a sexual offence or an offence of violence. The right of the accused to cross-examine the child at the trial would not be affected.
That is an important point in relation to the matter raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough and Horncastle (Mr. Leigh) in his intervention. My hon. Friend was correct to point out that some of the proposals, notably that submitted by Professor Glanville Williams—at least in its first form—appeared to trench on the rights of cross-examination. I am not sure that Professor Williams holds that view any longer. However, new clause 6 does not affect the right of cross-examination, and that must be a major point in its favour.
New clause 7 does not relate to children and should properly be dealt with separately. It would allow remand hearings to be conducted by live video link, with the agreement of all parties. I believe that that is a most interesting idea. Plainly, there are technological and resource implications that do not allow me to accept the proposal tonight. However, the difficulties of bringing prisoners from prison to appear in court, could be solved if there was a video link. The time for that idea will come, but, alas, I cannot say that its time is tonight.
§ Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton)
The Minister has said that there are resource implications. However, in terms of the Treasury, are there not negative resource implications? The cost of installing the equipment will be gained many times over by the saving in the time of police and prison officers and, in addition, there will be a very important law and order saving because, as the Minister knows, a considerable amount of police time is taken up by police escorts for prisoners on remand.
§ Mr. Mellor
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that there would be what are known in the trade as "offsetting savings". Whether the costs would be totally or partially offset I do not know. Amidst the many other points that we have considered, this is not a point that we have had a chance fully to cost or discuss. It is an interesting idea which, I am sure, in due time cannot be denied. I am afraid that I cannot say that we can accept it this evening. However, I am sure that in due course exploratory work would have to be done.
§ Mr. Tony Favell (Stockport)
Will my hon. Friend contact the authorities in Texas? I have seen the video links operating with the consent of both parties in criminal and civil proceedings. That practice saves a lot of money.
§ Mr. Mellor
I am concerned that our criminal justice system should reflect the advantages that technology can apply. All too often, our criminal justice system appears to many people to be rooted in an altogether older and bygone age, important for some matters of principle but not so important— indeed, regrettable—in respect of some matters of practice. I would have no objection to the proposals in due course, but I must say—I do not mean this rudely— that new clause 7 is perhaps a trifle premature at this stage, although it is well worth airing.
New clause 8 reproduces those parts of clause 21 which deal with children's evidence by live video link. It is important that those who did not soldier through the three and a half months of Committee proceedings should understand that the Bill proposes a major innovation, that children should be able to give evidence via a live video link. That is a major step forward. Basically, new clause 8 reproduces clause 21 with the added provision in subsection (4) that the court should be able toallow the questioning of the child to be conducted through a fit person other than the prosecution and defence counsel.It is not clear whether that would be with or without the agreement of the parties. It would introduce into law a novelty—namely, a person other than counsel for one side or the other.
Before making my detailed response, it may be helpful if 1 try to set the discussion in context by describing the real practical evidence that the Government have given of their concern to root out child abuse and ensure that the criminal justice system is responsive to the needs of children.
We looked carefully at the Criminal Law Revision Committee's report on the criminal law on sexual offences against children. That revealed no significant gaps, but recommended increases in penalties for certain offences. The Government assisted my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Drake (Miss Fookes) to take through the House of Commons the Sexual Offences Act 1985, which increased the penalties for indecent assault on a young girl from five years to 10 years and for attempted rape from seven years to life. It is worth stressing that in 1985 there were about 300 rapes or attempted rapes of girls aged under 16. I hope that that Act significantly strengthened the ability of the courts to sentence appropriately in those cases.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Brittan), when Home Secretary, set out a policy, which my right hon. Friend the present Home Secretary has continued, that those sentenced to life imprisonment for the sexual or sadistic murder of children may expect to serve at least 20 years. I point out, from my 955 experience of handling life sentence cases for three and a half years in the Home Office, that some such offenders were released after 12 or 13 years under the old arrangements. Some such offenders will never be released, and I am confident that that meets with the approval of the whole House. Those sentenced to more than five years for crimes of violence—which include the sexual abuse of children—will not normally be paroled.
We must consider also, in due course, the laws of evidence which bear very much on video links. I hope that I am forgiven for pointing out that in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 important changes were made in the law of evidence to facilitate the routing out before a court of incidents of abuse, many of which take place behind closed doors and within the home and which therefore are some of the most difficult offences to bring to light. Section 80 (3) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 makes a wife or husband a compellable witness where the spouse is accused of a sexual or violent offence against someone under 16.
Those who love the law of evidence—I cannot claim to be one— know that it has some rather bizarre rules about whether one spouse can be compelled to give evidence against the other. We have entirely removed those rules from the scene. Often, in the case of abuse of a child within the home, the act will be committed by one adult and the only other adult in the home who can give evidence is likely to be the spouse. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Sir E. Griffiths), a battle-hardened veteran of the Standing Committee on that legislation, knows only too well that that was an important, although perhaps not the most commented on, point in the legislation.
It is worth pointing out that section 62(10) of the Act provides that, if an arrested person refuses without good cause to permit the police to take an intimate sample—say blood or semen— a court or jury may treat the refusal as corroboration of other evidence against the accused. That is important in relation to child sex abuse. Where the victim is too young to be sworn, his or her evidence must be corroborated, and section 62(10) provides a forensic basis for corroboration in certain cases.
The pilot project which the Metropolitan police are running in the London borough of Bexley is designed to ensure that youngsters, when they have a complaint to make about physical or sexual abuse, are taken to and interviewed in a hospital. When children are taken to a police station, they tend to associate that with a suggestion that they have done something wrong. The evidence is then taken by a specially trained person, who may or may not be a police officer. It is videoed to avoid the child having to go through the ordeal of making statements over and over to different people who need to know. That video can be shown— this is relevant to the Texas experience mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Mr. Favell)— to the accused. The United States experience shows that, where video recordings of the complaint are shown to the accused while he is interviewed, it increases the likelihood of an admission that might prevent the ordeal of court appearances.
We have already said—I want to build on this later—that the- Bexley experiment and other police practices are being collated by the chief inspector of constabulary with a view to our reviewing police procedures, with the aim of issuing a circular to chief officers that would mirror the successful circular on the treatment of rape victims 956 which led to many more women being prepared to make complaints of rape. I am afraid that this has led to some lurid headlines in the newspapers which have asserted that the increased willingness of women to complain about rape means a substantially increased incidence of rape during the past few years. I do not believe that that is the case, but we must take it on the chin and try to improve our procedures. That is certainly our aim.
§ Ms. Clare Short
The Bexley experiment is impressive. but I am impatient about how soon we shall get such procedures throughout the country. As the hon. Gentleman knows, the procedures to be recommended in the circular on rape have not been implemented throughout the United Kingdom. When will the circular be issued? How much force can be put behind it? Will it be just a recommendation, or is there some guarantee that such changes will be implemented everywhere?
§ Mr. Mellor
I cannot give the hon. Lady a precise time scale, for reasons to which I shall come. We want to proceed with it. As the hon. Lady knows, one problem is that there are separate, autonomous police forces., accountable to their own police authority. Many argue, rightly, that that is an advantage, since it prevents the problems that many envisage in the creation of a national police force. But there is a downside to that—change is sometimes slow to come to some parts of the country. That must be accepted. The climate for interviewing rape victims has changed very much since the notorious television series a few years ago—which, paradoxically, did a great deal to wash out one or two practices which were not otherwise known to the public. This is a real step in the right direction.
Prevention is a crucial element in all this, because youngsters must be warned of the dangers which they can sometimes face if they accept the blandishments of a stranger to enter his car or to go off with him. That is why we are running a "Stranger Danger" campaign. Its aim is to increase the awareness of children, parents and teachers of the problems of child molestation, to get across a set of simple rules for children to follow and to alert parents and children to the need to ensure that children know and follow those rules.
One such scheme was successfully linked with the showing of "Peter Pan". Children who attended the cinema were issued with a document jointly sponsored by the Home Office and Walt Disney Productions on the never-never code, which sought to put across to children in a non-frightening way the points that they need to know for their safety.
§ Ms. Clare Short
I am sorry to interrupt the hon.. Gentleman twice, but I am worried about the "Stranger Danger" education programme. About 80 per cent. of child sex abuse occurs in the home or the neighbourhood where the child lives. If we teach our children that they are in danger only from strangers, we arc not addressing the problem. We are not arming them with the ability to go to someone to complain and to feel confident that they will be cared for. Most children who are abused are terrified about complaining to anyone. That is part of the problem.
§ Mr. Mellor
Plainly, there are problems with the home., but that would not be a reason for us not acting against the particular problems the child faces from a molester. Some of the most notorious and repugnant cases have 957 involved children being abducted or lured into cars by strangers. We must address all parts of the problem, one of which is certainly the threat from strangers.
§ Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Port Glasgow)
I am pleased to hear the Minister's sympathetic response to this social evil. Given that most attackers are men and that most victims of sexual abuse are young girls, does it not make sense to have more women police surgeons examining these victims outwith police stations?
§ Mr. Mellor
The hon. Gentleman has raised an important point, but I wonder whether—I am not trying to evade this, because it is a significant point—he would bear with me for a few minutes, because that is the final point that I wish to raise. I have much sympathy for it.
We have also put into place a wide-ranging system which allows checks to be run on people employed by public authorities who will come into contact with children. This follows the relevation that one child murderer had worked as a baby sitter, notwithstanding the fact that he had a long record of sexual offences. We are closely considering with voluntary bodies extending that system to the voluntary sector. I hope that the House agrees that these are all major steps forward. This allows me to say, as more than an act of piety, that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary and I are very concerned about the problems of child abuse, not least because, as parents of young children, we know only too well how vulnerable young children are and how utterly monstrous and repugnant— among many monstrous and repugnant offences—offences against children are, whether within the home or outside it.
Therefore, we advise the House to accept the live video link as a major step forward, because it must be our aim to try to ensure that a child victim of physical or sexual abuse comes to the end of that dreadful experience when he or she complains to the authorities, and that the dreadful experiences do not continue after the complaint has been made. One of the worst of those experiences is to have to give evidence in a busy courtroom, in the presence of the offender. A child will often find that a wholly intimidating process. It is difficult to see how the system can allow a child to relax while requiring that child to go into such wholly alien surroundings. We hope that a live video link will remove the most acute aspects of that trauma.
§ Mr. Mellor
If I could finish my point, I shall give way to my hon. and learned Friend later.
Several important points of detail remain to be dealt with. Clause 21 provides for the giving of evidence by a live video link. However, I should make it clear that we should like to consult widely about important details. For example, should the judge and counsel be present in the same room as the child, or should they be in the courtroom? Who should be with the child if the judge and counsel are not? Should the child see what is happening in the courtroom?
Plainly, as the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme explained, the jury must see the child. However, does it help or hinder the child's feeling of relative ease to 958 see the court? It is inevitable that any reconstruction of what has happened will be a disturbing experience, but would it make it more or less disturbing for the child to see what is happening in the courtroom, as well as to been by those in the courtroom?
We shall need to consult on all those points to ensure that the major advance that is secured by clause 21 works. It is not good enough to legislate on the overview. We must get the detail right. I know that several hon. Members will wish to assist in that process, as will several interest groups outside the House.
I now give way to the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence), a fine upstanding representative of the legal profession, who will want to welcome this progressive move.
§ Mr. Lawrence
Flattery will get my hon. Friend almost anywhere.
I am not opposed to this sensible, interesting and exciting provision. However, the Minister has not yet told us— although he came close to doing so— how this provision will be implemented. It seems that, since it is a novel scheme, we should do what is normally done in such circumstances and run a pilot scheme, a controlled experiment, or series of such experiments, in some parts of the country to see how it works out and the problems that are thrown up. Is that what the Minister has in mind?
§ Mr. Mellor
Yes, that is certainly what we have in mind. That is partly what I was discussing in dealing with where we go from here. It is not good enough simply to say that we should have live video links: we must ensure that we get the technology and the atmosphere right. That will be advanced by conducting experiments, and we shall do so.
I hope that I have not taken an unduly long time to come to the central issue of this new clause, but it is important that we see the proposals in the proper context, which is whether it would be a further improvement if video recordings of interviews with child witnesses were more readily admitted as evidence.
I should like to make it clear, as I did in Committee, that it would be wrong to deprive the accused of his right to cross-examine the child in a trial in which a video recording had been admitted. I am sure that we all agree on that. Of course, that would be traumatic. I sympathise with parents who do not like the idea of the child being questioned critically about what happened. However, we would go from one extreme to the other— from an alleged insensitivity to the rights of the complainant, to a certain insensitivity to the rights of the defendant—if we did away with cross-examination.
Such cross-examination cannot be carried out other than by the counsel who has been appointed by the defendant to represent his interests. I say that quite firmly because, however much we envisage a well-meaning person interposing himself between the defendant and his lawyers on the one hand and the child on the other, that would dilute the interaction between counsel and child which is a key part of protecting the rights of the accused person— who we must remember is innocent until adjudged guilty. It would be inappropriate for us to fail to recognise that fact.
I have yet to be persuaded that such a person exists who could properly carry on the business of asking questions on both sides and do so in such a way as to satisfy us all that justice had properly been done. However, that is not 959 to say that anything goes and that the child should be subjected to brutal cross-examination. I do not believe that many counsel employ such techniques, because that would be wholly counter-productive. I am glad that those hon. Members who are lawyers and have some practical experience know that that is not the case. It is the judge's duty to prevent the bullying of a child. We hope that we would make the child's position easier by putting the child in a room away from the defendant and possibly—this remains to be decided—physically away from counsel also.
However, the question whether the video recording should be shown as part of the case remains to be considered. The child could be further examined in chief on that by the prosecution and cross-examined by the defence, all via the live video recording. I have considerable sympathy with that idea, because I can see advantages for the child and for the jury who have to decide the issue. The would have the opportunity to see the child's first full coherent attempt to explain exactly what he or she had been subjected to. A video showing the child's responses would be a telling document to put before those with the difficult task of unravelling the truth and deciding upon an issue of guilt or innocence which has severe consequences for both sides.
We must face up to the difficulty of whether we can be sufficiently sure of our ground in making such a change now. We already have to confront the difficulty, on which opinion is seriously divided, whether there is a role for an amicus figure who would interpose himself between counsel and child to ask questions.
There is also the question whether the use of a recording advances or derogates from the efficient transaction of court business, and whether it is an assistance or detriment to the child. Those are not issues on which we are entitled to plunge in on our own value judgements. Indeed, it has been suggested that the prospect of wider cross-examination because of the availability of the video could be detrimental to the child. It is possible that that could yield more fruits for cross-examination than if the child recounted the evidence live, via the video link, that very day. In that case, it might be a mixed blessing.
The dominant consideration in experiments such as the one at Bexley is to reduce the formality of interviews, to help the child come to terms with the situation and, sometimes, to provide a basis for intervention by social workers rather than criminal proceedings. If everyone knew that the recording was to be a key document at any future trial, it would be difficult to resist a tendency for the interview to become more rather than less formal. Those genuine issues need to be addressed.
I am extremely well disposed to this proposal, but it would be wrong for us simply to change the law now without consulting all the interest groups. The Law Society and the Criminal Bar Association, whose assistance has been properly prayed in aid by Labour Members on other parts of the Bill, have expressed the gravest reservations about the impact of such proposals on the right to cross-examine and on the retention of the oral tradition. Indeed, Labour Members often prayed in aid the retention of the oral tradition in relation to other parts of the Bill, and I make no criticism of that.
There should be an examination, the details of which my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will want to give a little later because they are bound up with some other matters that I shall turn to. Having secured the live video 960 link—we must not overlook that major step—there should be proper consideration coupled with proper consultation, with some research evidence base, to see whether what seems to be a good idea can be shown to be such. I hope we can see how it would work in practice and, perhaps, has worked in other jurisdictions.
That should be done, not to kick the ball into the river from which it will take years to fish out, but as a tightly disciplined exercise which will enable the results to be available within a sensible time span—it is significant that during the dinner hour we have such a well-attended House to discuss these issues—and will enable the House to return to the issue. We will then have a proper factual base on which to make a properly considered decision, having, rightly, consulted those who have a right to make their views known to us before we legislate. That would be a proper way of recognising the strength of the case and is in no sense an escape from the responsibility of making a decision.
§ Sir Eldon Griffiths
As I did not serve on this Committee but have been worried about the matter and been unable to reach an easy conclusion, I welcome what my hon. Friend said. It is common knowledge that many tape recordings are made of initial interviews of children who have been sexually abused. For the experiment and reference work to be done properly, those consulted will need to be able to look at some of those recordings before they form a judgment. Will they be eligible to do that, or will the police recordings be excluded from examination?
§ Mr. Mellor
That is a good point and further illustrates the details that cannot be avoided in providing us with a basis on which to make sensible progress. I hope that those recordings can be made available because, plainly, they are at the heart of the matter. I cannot answer conclusively, but I hope that they will be available on the basis that they will not be published but will be used to inform consideration by people of experience.
Several elements of child abuse need further consideration within a properly disciplined time span to enable early decisions to be taken. There is the question of the manner in which complaints are dealt with. I welcome and do not resent this debate, because I appeared on "Childwatch" to challenge one of the more stuffy old cobwebs of the law's approach to children. One of the most depressing aspects of the programme was the evidence of several doctors about the way in which medical examinations are carried out on children—the very point raised by the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman). The ordeal of giving an account of events and of being physically examined must not be worse or more humiliating for the child than the ordeal of having been sexually assaulted and brutalised in the first place.
To pick up the point of the hon. Member for Birmingham Ladywood (Ms. Short), there is a case for sending messages by circular to the police about how these things should be dealt with. There is a case for considering how the various agencies involved in the investigations of these matters conduct themselves. That would involve not only the police but doctors and social workers. Many complaints lead not to court but to social work action. We want to explore more technically precisely what can be done to improve the present position and to discover how inadequate it is. At present, most evidence and information is anecdotal.
§ Dr. Godman
I am pleased to hear what the Minister is saying about the examination of children in such cases. Does he agree that the medical examination of a child who has been abused could form part of the healing process, if the medical examination is conducted properly by those who are appropriately trained? Does he further agree that, as part of the healing process, a genital examination should always form part of a wider medical examination?
§ Mr. Mellor
I certainly agree with that, but as I found during my work on drugs, what I think about clinical matters does not matter much; what matters is the duty under which doctors regard themselves. They tend to respond to the views of their colleagues and to certain appropriate medical directions. At the heart of the exercise would be an exploration of whether the medical profession would want to consider in more detail the way in which these examinations are carried out.
There is room for further exploration of the video link and the appropriateness of using video recordings; there is room for exploration of the way in which a complaint is handled by the authorities, whether by the police, doctors or social workers; and there is room for a close examination of the way in which the rules of evidence bear on child witnesses, particularly whether the present rules of corroboration are appropriate and whether it is appropriate for a child to give sworn evidence.
It is particularly important that we take up the compelling strand of medical evidence that a child is less likely than an adult to invent an account of a sexual experience which is otherwise beyond the child's knowledge. The question is whether that can be established sufficiently as part of a medical consensus to make the present basis on which the laws of evidence are founded factually inappropriate. There is room for further exploration.
My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary proposes to make an announcement soon setting out the precise details of the way these examinations should be conducted. I hope that the proposals can go forward in a non-partisan way. There is concern on both sides of the House and my views have been greatly assisted by the points made orally and in writing to me during the passage of the Bill. I hope that what I have said will satisfy the hon. Member for Ladywood and her colleagues that we are not fobbing them off or kicking the ball into the river.
A great deal has been done, but more remains to be done. We will be better able to do that which remains to be done when we have cleared the thicket of facts, circumstances and consultations, and carried out our legitimate legislative function, after proper consideration has been given to very weighty matters.
§ Dr. Godman
I support the new clause. Clauses 17 and 21 are welcome advances on current practice. I believe that no child should be medically examined in a police cell. The practice of children being examined in police stations must cease forthwith. A focused medical examination, where gentle treatment is required, should form part and parcel of a wider medical examination of a child. As I said earlier to the Minister, a medical examination of a child in those circumstances can form part of the healing process.
It is deeply regrettable, even disgraceful, as the Scots have sent me here, that the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill contains no similar provision. That Bill was debated in 962 Edinburgh last Monday. I informed the Solicitor General that I would table two new clauses that would be similar to clauses 17 and 21 of this Bill. Remembering that we have children's hearings in Scotland, these new clauses may be more appropriate, with certain changes, for the courts in Scotland.
New clause 6 is, I believe, more radical than clause 17, even though that clause allows a judge to admit a video recorded interview as admissible evidence. New clause 6 will encourage such an interview to be conducted as soon as possible after the offence has taken place, although I acknowledge that many horrible incidents often do not come to light for weeks or months. The police officers and social workers are doing fine work in the experiment in Bexley. I have met the social workers and police officers involved in this most useful and human approach to the difficult task of interviewing a child in dreadful and deeply distressing circumstances.
New clause 8 is more radical in approach than clause 21. The present practice of submitting children to cross-examination in the sombre surroundings of a courtroom is disgraceful and, in today's climate, indefensible. The antique formality and arcane lawyer's language of those proceedings must prove to be for many children a harrowing experience. Child witnesses or victims should be cross-examined in informal surroundings—similar in some respects to the children's hearings in Scotland, although many of those cases proceed to the sheriff court or even to the High Court.
Every Crown court in England and every sheriff court in Scotland should have a children's room, where such a cross-examination could take place in much less foreboding and disturbing surroundings than in a courtroom. In a recent case in a sheriff court in the east of Scotland, an advocate, representing a teacher who, it was alleged, had sexually assaulted a eight-year-old boy, shouted at that boy in the witness box. The manner and behaviour of that advocate was so disgraceful that the sheriff was quite right to adjourn the proceedings for five minutes to allow the advocate to calm down. That disgraceful incident involved the bullying of a eight-year-old child by a lawyer.
Our aim must be to make the examination of a child as compassionate and sensitive as possible. Although I may be persuaded or dissuaded on this matter, I believe that the judge, prosecuting council and defence agent should be in the room with the child. They should be informally attired and should sit at the table with the child, rather like in our children's hearings, which have in attendance the reporter to the children's panel, three members of the panel, the child, his or her parents, and the social worker.
The child should be accompanied by an adult, perhaps by a social worker who is independent of the case. There should also be what we in Scotland call, in our children's hearings, a befriender, someone who can calm down the child. The accused, the jury, the press and the public can watch the proceedings on a large monitoring screen in the courtroom. The press and the public do not need to be present. In the High Court, at the trial of a serious charge of sexual abuse, 35 to 50 people can be present. In Scotland the judge has the right to clear the courtroom of certain people. Nevertheless, the jury of 15 is still present, as are officials and others. That is not the solution.
The answer is to cross-examine the child in informal surroundings. Every Crown court building should have a children's room for the examination of children in the 963 most informal circumstances. I believe that these new clauses push off—as do clauses 17 and 21—into an era of more compassionate and sympathetic examination of children caught up in these crimes. Compassion and sympathy must be shown from the first moment that a child reports such an offence to a teacher, school attendance officer or health visitor. That sympathetic approach to the child must not stop once the case goes to court. The video presentation or closed circuit television network mentioned in the new clause should be part of a more humane approach to the examination of children.
I next ask the Minister about women police surgeons. Most victims are young girls. Most perpetrators of these attacks are men. Most examinations should be conducted by women doctors who have had the appropriate training. These examinations should not take place in a police station. One case that was brought to my attention recently was of a child being examined in a police station in a room that had had a sticky label, with the title "Medical Room", attached to the door. That is a disgraceful state of affairs. Children should be examined by appropriately qualified doctors in hospitals. That is why I say that we need an increase in the number of women police surgeons.
Clauses 17 and 21, or more appropriately these new clauses, take us much further down the road to compassionate investigation of a child involved in a case of sexual abuse.
§ 8 pm
§ Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)
I warmly support the proposals embodied in new clause 6. Had it not been for my absence from the House last week with a Select Committee, I would have been happy to add my name to it. I congratulate the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding) on the manner in which she has handled this issue both in Committee and outside. She has shown the vigour and enthusiasm for a cause which we learnt to expect from her predecessor, although she has not yet demonstrated his prolixity.
I have had experience as a magistrate in a juvenile court. I voice the support of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which is naturally anxious about this. I serve on its central executive committee, as does the hon. Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy), who wishes to be associated with my remarks.
It has long been possible to produce a record of events in writing, and, with the development of technology, it is now possible to have a record of events in sound. A further development now makes it possible to have a video recording. If a written and a sound recording are acceptable in a court, why not a video recording? After all, the principle has been started upon in this very building, by having a live television link. If a live television link is acceptable, it is not such a great step to have a recording of TV proceedings.
§ Mr. Lawrence
There is, of course, a substantial difference. One can cross-examine live the police officer who is putting before the court a tape-recorded interview, but what we are discussing here is not being able to cross-examine live.
§ Mr. Sims
I think that my hon. Friend the Minister made it clear that that is exactly what could happen in subsequent proceedings. A video recording would simply 964 be another form of evidence. I thought that was clear from what my hon. Friend had said. One point that he did not clarify, and on which the hon. Member for Greenock and Port Glasgow (Dr. Godman) touched, has been put to me—that under clauses 13, 14 and 15, video recordings would be admissible as a document. He used the expression "document" in referring to video recordings.
§ Mr. Mellor
My hon. Friend is right. Video recordings would be a document and would be admissible, but the way in which clause 16 is phrased is such that the judge would be likely to rule in favour of admissibility only in exceptional circumstances. It would be possible, if we were to make progress with this, in due course to change the presumption, which at the moment is against admissibility.
§ Mr. Sims
I am grateful for that intervention. It strengthens the desirability of a specific legislative proposal to cover the idea that we are discussing. Child abuse is a serious and growing problem, as is demonstrated by the number of children who have taken advantage of Childline, which was set up a few months ago. Therefore, it is important that we should not only obtain convictions of those guilty of child abuse but do all that we can to reduce its incidence, in particular by dealing with cases as promptly as possible.
If evidence comes to light suggesting that there has been a case of child abuse, many week may elapse between the defendant being arrested and charged and the matter being aired in court. It may be that by that stage the parents of the child who has been the victim may simply not be willing to allow that child to appear, for very understandable reasons. They do not want the child to have to go through the trauma of appearing in court, whether it be with a video link or in the court itself. In that case, a conviction would be most unlikely.
Even with the live television link, the problem is that, because of the long time that has elapsed between the events that are the subject of the hearing and the hearing itself, the child's memory is bound to be dim. At that age, children have short memories. They are also more impressionable, and it may be that the child has been schooled to tell a particular story. Inevitably, whatever it says, it will carry that much less weight and make it less likely that a conviction may be secured.
If, as soon as possible after the discovery of a possible abuse, the child victim can be interviewed face to face, not with a television link, by an experienced person, in neutral surroundings and with the aid perhaps of models or pictures, surely that video can be extremely useful in court proceedings. Indeed, if all that interview has been videoed, it may make court proceedings unnecessary. As the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme said, experience elsewhere suggests that whatever the initial protests of the defendant, faced with a video along the lines that I have described, he will confess. The great advantage then is that he can be dealt with forthwith, whatever may be the appropriate form for dealing with him, which may he a question of punishment or treatment. The important thing is that that can be undertaken straight away without a lengthy wait and court proceedings.
If we have to wait for the court proceedings to take place, the video of such an interview can surely offer to the court important and valuable evidence to which it can give appropriate weight. I appreciate that the whole question whether there should be subsequent cross-examination 965 comes into the matter. My hon. Friend the Minister will be aware of the considerable work done by Professor Glanville Williams, to whom my hon. Friend referred, and to Mr. J. R. Spencer, in his sector. I do not wish to protract the proceedings on the new clause by going into their arguments in detail, but they seem to me to be formidable. I am glad to know that my hon. Friend is sympathetic to the case.
I understand that there may be shortcomings in this clause as drafted. However, I am a little concerned that nothing may be done at all. I take the liberty of reminding my hon. Friend the Minister that in Committee he said:Legislative opportunities do not arise every year."—[Official Report. Standing Committee F; 12 March 1987, c. 1066.]This is an opportunity.
I listened carefully to what my hon. Friend said about taking a careful look at this, and his promise that we shall shortly have a more detailed statement on what form that will take. He suggested that the House could return to the issue. I was not clear what sort of time span there would be. Before long, presumably, this Bill will become law, and other events may intervene. One would like to think that something could be done on this front. Therefore, before the Bill completes its passage, I wonder whether my hon. Friend might consider including in it some general provisions which would allow my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to make suitable regulations and take appropriate steps to implement the general principle of what we are trying to support without necessarily going into details at this stage.
Having said that, I thank my hon. Friend for the sympathetic reception that he has given to the new clause and hope that he will take on board the suggestion that I have made.
§ Ms. Clare Short
I agree with the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims). Obviously, the Minister's remarks about promising to review all of this and to move forward urgently are welcome, but we are left with a worry about the time scale and the exact nature and terms of reference of the review. He referred to a statement that is to be made by the Home Secretary. That means that we are responding to his arguments without all the information that we ought to have in front of us. Like the hon. Member for Chislehurst, I wonder whether it is possible to put some amendment into the Bill that could be used after the review has taken place rather than wait for the next appropriate Bill to amend the law. In that way we could make progress in this area.
The evidence of the scale of the problem in this country is quite horrifying and terrifying. The research evidence is that at least 10 per cent. of all children are sexually abused, half of them when under the age of 10 years. There have been studies in various countries, including the United States, but this evidence has been accumulated in Britain by asking adults about what happened to them in the past. So if the problem is getting worse, as suggested by the NSPCC and so on, it might be even worse than that.
The perpetrators are almost without exception males, although occasionally there are colluding wives or cohabitees. But it is a male problem; it is men that do it to children. This part of our sexual culture—the way that men behave sexually—is shocking and horrifying.
966 Two thirds of the victims are girls and one third are boys; and 80 per cent. of the abuse takes place in the family or in the neighbourhood where the child lives. This is the most shocking thing of all. Virtually every woman with whom I have ever discussed this issue has had some experience in her childhood, be it a flasher or some bloke at a cinema trying to put his hand on her knee. But that is something quite different from living in a family where it is going on all the time and the child cannot turn to the people who are supposed to look after it to get protection. That is a much more serious problem. When we discuss these matters we talk as though it is the odd man, a stranger; we talk as though that is the nature of the problem and that is how it has to be dealt with. Unfortunately, it is not. There are horrific cases of abuse that hit the headlines, but 80 per cent. of it is repeated abuse within the family or in the neighbourhood in which the child lives.
It is also clear that such abuse in childhood is enormously damaging throughout life. I have been approached recently by some very impressive women who are working in therapy in this area in Birmingham. They talk about groups for adult women who were abused as children and are still bruised and emotionally upset; it is still affecting their whole attitude to life, their emotions and their relationships with their husbands and children. They have never had any help or assistance over a period of 20 years or more, and they are still in a damaged state because of that. The reason is that there are not enough facilities for that kind of help.
We know that much abuse goes undetected and unprosecuted. In this review—I do not know how wide it will be—the question of the education of those who deal with children in detecting the signs of abuse is very important. In the past—and Freud was partly to blame for this—it was often put down to child fantasy. Freud suggested that children fantasised about these matters, and much of the education of nursery nurses, teachers and so on indicated that that was so. But all the current evidence is that it is not so. As the Minister said, when children talk about these matters, they are more likely to be telling the truth than are adults even, because they can only get experience of these matters through being abused in the ways they allege. We really must look at the training of all individuals who deal with young children so that when children complain they are believed. Part of the problem is that children complain and are not believed.
The Minister referred to the Bexley experiment. Like everyone else, I am extremely impressed by that but I am impatient to see it extended throughout the country.
Just a week ago, when I was in the bar one evening, a stranger who was visiting the House approached me and told me what happened to his daughter, a four-year-old girl, who had been abused by a neighbour. The first time she told her father he did not believe her; the second time he did. He rang the NSPCC, not knowing what to do, and was told that he should report the matter to the police. He went along to the police station with his daughter. A policeman in uniform interviewed her and she started to cry and said, "Daddy, what have I done wrong?", and she would not speak. It went on, and she had to have a medical examination.
The father asked if her own doctor could conduct the examination, but was told that that was impossible. So the 967 medical examination took place. The child cried, she was hurt, and she said that was what was done to her by the neighbour. It was obviously a continuation of the distress: what the doctor did that hurt was what the man next door had done. A few weeks later the child had to go to her doctor with an ordinary chest infection. She would not go in, and became hysterical. That is evidence of how much it distressed her to be medically examined in that way.
The outcome of the case was that the police said that there was insufficient evidence. No prosecution has been brought, the father feels deeply aggrieved and the neighbour is still living next door. The father is unemployed and cannot afford to move house. When he said to the police that if that was it he might deal with the matter himself by some kind of violent attack on the neighbour, he was told that if he did that he would be prosecuted.
I tell that story because I feel that it is typical of what is taking place throughout this land. Children are being hurt by the investigation that is supposed to assist in bringing about a prosecution—and that is not as crude a form of abuse as sometimes takes place.
When one considers the damage that the experience of the police station and the medical examination does to children, one is tempted to conclude that in some cases it is better not to prosecute. I am told by those advising me that that is absolutely wrong. One of the problems for children who have been subjected to continuing abuse is that they blame themselves and think there is something wrong with them, something impure. The experts say that prosecution is very important to the child, so that it may have a sense that society is on its side, and very important to the perpetrator so that he may have a sense that this sort of thing is going to be stopped.
There are families, my experts in Birmingham tell me, in which abuse has gone through generations—men who have abused their children have gone on to abuse their grandchildren. It is unbelievable, but they are aware of those patterns, and they are serious workers in this area; they are not just making wild allegations. So prosecution is extremely important, as is the promise of the review, but it is not the whole of it. Detection is part of it and so is therapy.
Some of the children who have been abused do not even know that they are entitled to control their own body and tell people that they are not allowed to touch them and use them in this way. Small children who have been abused do not have our conventional understanding of what they are entitled to do sexually, because they grow up in households in which they learn from adults that this kind of treatment of children is normal.
Part of the therapy when such practices are discovered is to re-educate the child about its own emotional behaviour. For example, where abuse is detected, one finds children being taken into care and blaming themselves because they are the ones who are taken out of the family as though they have done something wrong. Then they are put with foster parents, where there is sometimes evidence of their being abused. That is partly because of the way in which children who have been constantly abused behave. When they are being friendly they often behave in a sexually active way, and this seems to trigger continuing abuse.
All these questions must be looked at. We need more prosecutions, we need to look at the nature of the evidence, video links, and so on, but we must also look at training 968 —so that abuse is detected and children are protected—and at the facilities for therapy throughout the country, so that children who have been damaged can be helped to overcome the effects of the abuse that they have suffered.
I agree with the Minister that these matters are so important that we should not deal with them in a party political way. However, we are entitled to be impatient. I hope that before the end of today the Minister will give us some indication of the time scale of the review and what views he has on the sort of legislative vehicle he envisages for any changes he wishes to make. Perhaps he should go back to the suggestion made by his hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst—that some amendments should be put into the Bill, perhaps in another place, in broad enough terms to be triggered later so that, once the review has taken place, there will not be another long delay before an appropriate Bill comes along.
§ Mr. Dickens
I was delighted to hear the Minister refer to the Bexley experiment, because there is no doubt that when children have been sexually abused, their first recollections are very important. By the time the child comes to the remand hearing, the committal proceedings and then the Crown court, that child has filled its head with so many things in between and its memory can be hazy and so cause problems in cross-examination. Therefore, it will be valuable if a child makes a statement and it is recorded at the first opportunity. I hope also that that recording could be shown to the child again so that he or she can recall what was said before going into each of the court hearings. That would be important.
Such a system works very well in Texas. Indeed, the sheriff of Dallas who visited the House of Commons had words with me. He gave me lots of useful information. For instance, in America, certainly in Texas, when children are nine years old they can give evidence and be sworn and believed just as an adult but if a child is under nine he has to go in front of a competency panel. That is a group of eminent people who ask the child questions such as, "Do you get smacked when you arc naughty? Do you tell the truth? Are you good?" In the end, they give the child a certificate of competency. Once a child has that certificate, even if it is under nine years old, it can go into court and be believed in the same way as an adult.
Parents in this country feel most strongly that the law and our court proceedings are loaded heavily in favour of the sex abuser and against the child. It is hard for the child to be believed. In fact, judges will place great stress on telling members of the jury that it is unsafe to convict on the uncorroborated evidence of a child. Of course that is right; we do not want innocent people to be prosecuted. However, we do not want a charter for the child abuser. On most occasions, the child abuser commits the offence not in public but in private. There is seldom an audience. Sometimes they let themselves down by involving more than one child, but often when the child complains or the offence is found out by the parents, or the child has to go to the doctor with some medical problem, it is too late even for forensic corroboration, and things are very difficult.
I have received on my desk many cases involving children's homes where the children are mentally disabled and people are certainly abusing them but the Director of Public Prosecutions is unable to act in spite of the fact that he, the police and the Attorney-General know very well that those things are happening.
969 I am encouraged to hear the Minister speak about the Bexley experiment. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Ms. Short) that we are impatient because children are being abused all the time. The quicker we get safety valves in place so that the system is not loaded against the child and the parents of a child have a chance to bring someone to court and obtain a conviction, the better.
There is no doubt that child abuse is growing in this country, but parents are much more willing now to allow their children to testify. They feel that if they do not allow the child to go through the terrible experience of testifying, the man or woman—the hon. Member for Ladywood is correct, it is mostly men—will strike again and the problem will be pushed on elsewhere.
In America, where the initial videos are shown to the defence, as they would have to be, the defendant sits there with his lawyer and watches the film. Sometimes it is remorse that makes him plead guilty and sometimes it is the fact that he does not want the video shown in open court. On other occasions he can see that the evidence is strong or it might be part of a plea bargain where he feels that if he spares the child any further embarrassment the judge will be more lenient with the sentence. That is sometimes the case. I am not a lawyer and I think that plea bargaining has its place to save the child that traumatic experience. I speak simply as a parent and trustee of Childwatch.
The Government have been making rapid strides. They have reviewed the child care law, published inquiries into the sad deaths in cases of child abuse—we have learned from the lessons—and put the names of those who have been warned or convicted of child offences on a central computer so that there can be a blackball system when someone seeks employment to work with children. Those are all marvellous things that the Government have been doing, and I applaud them; I do not attack them. I should like to place on record my thanks to the Home Office and the departments within the Home Office for following up the many cases that I keep sending to it. I should also like to thank the Attorney-General. They have been very helpful and a strength to me in my campaigns.
I think that the Opposition's new clauses are right. I should like to see those things. However, it seems from what the Minister has said that it is a little premature, because we have the experiments and we want to get it right. It is a shame that we have to start our own pilot schemes when there is so much evidence in other countries on which we could draw. However, that is probably due to the volume of work within the Department, the problem of getting it right and the pressure from our legal friends who are obviously guarding their preserves. The Home Secretary has to deal with all those things.
I want to be fair, and I say to the Opposition that I agree with what they have said. I am sure that the Lords will have something to say on the new clauses. I have great sympathy with them, but I am satisfied with the answers that the Minister has given. However, I urge him and his Department to deliver the goods quickly. A general election will not make any difference, because this is an all-party issue. We are not fighting each other on protecting children in this honourable House; we are united. I am sure that the Home Office will continue to deliver the goods so that we can protect children, so that the child is 970 heard more readily, so that the scales are not loaded in favour of the abuser but a balance is restored on behalf of the victim. There should be justice, so that people are not acquitted simply because of the way in which our legal system operates. Therefore, I support the Bill as it stands but the new clauses are marvellous and I am sure that in a short time they will be part of our legislation.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I rise, not to guard my preserve, but to guard the preserve of everybody in this country who wants to see that justice is done. I congratulate the Government on bringing forward clause 21 as an attempt to deal with a substantial modern evil.
The video link is such a significant and revolutionary proposal that everybody will think it is a good idea in principle. However, we must take great care before its details are put in train because of the very real possibility, if we are not careful, not only that innocent people might be convicted—it sometimes happens that innocent people are accused in our courts, even of sexual offences against children—but that the guilty will more easily go free. That is why I do not see much merit in new clause 8, because thefit person other than the prosecution and defence counselmay not be fit enough in experience and practice to ask the child the right questions, either for the prosecution or for the defence.
New clause 6 seems to offer an alternative to the live television link. It is difficult to conceive that the interview would be videoed or the child would give its evidence live via a television link. Of the two possibilities, it is obviously better for the child to give evidence live by the television link. The other should be relegated to an alternative, to be used if there is no live television link in certain circumstances upon which the court may subsequently decide.
§ Mrs. Golding
I want to put the hon. and learned Gentleman right, as I am afraid that he is confused about the use of video recording and the live video link. The video recording is a presentation of a piece of evidence that is recorded before—often well before—the case comes to court. The video link provides the facility within the court to cross-examine a child, if need be.
§ Mr. Lawrence
There is a possibility that the child could be interviewed in chief on a television link. That would make the video recording of what had been said earlier redundant. That possibility should be considered. If the video interview is to be used only as evidence in chief and the child is then wheeled in for cross-examination, I doubt whether the marrying-up would be a successful procedure.
§ Mr. Mellor
My hon. and learned Friend, who is one of my most clear-headed colleagues from the legal profession, has shown how necessary it is to explore the ground further to see how we stand. As I understand it, the video link provision would permit examination in chief and cross-examination via the video link in circumstances to be determined. The case for video recording in no way depends on whether the live video link is available. Rather, it depends on whether there is some advantage in a system that allows the child's first account of what happened to be given to the authorities in the form of a video recording, and whether that would be a valuable document that could be shown to a jury and would assist it to determine the 971 truth or otherwise of that account. The child would then be available, via the live video link, for further examination in chief and cross-examination, should that be necessary. The matter that we must consider further is the balance of advantage of allowing a video that is taken in such circumstances to be admitted.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making the position clear. It shows that there are many variants of the use of video links that have to be considered with great care.
I agree with what has been said about children being good witnesses in court—my experience confirms that. They do not seem to he over-intimidated by circumstances in court into forgetting their complaints. The courts have been most considerate to children: judges usually take off their wigs, and sometimes their gowns, and ask council to do likewise. The usual forbidding formality of the court is reduced so that children can give evidence in more informal and friendly surroundings, and my experience is that they give it well.
The greatest problem in many cases might be the child's identification of the offender. That is unlikely to be admissible, as part of the evidence in a case, on a video link. It is inconceivable that children would produce evidence of identification at an identification parade. That may be another complication. That apart, the problem does not seem to be quite as severe, because it is not as traumatic for the child to recount afterwards what happened as to identify the offender, if he is a stranger.
If it is possible for the defence counsel to say to the jury, "Of course, if you had seen this child and been able to judge its demeanour in court as it was asked questions by both sides, that would have been better than seeing it on television"—
§ Mr. Lawrence
The impression that the hon. Lady might give when seen on television being questioned by an interviewer or an audience might sometimes be misleading. The only way to remove all the misleading factors that sometimes obtain on television is to have the viewer present. That is why it would he desirable, if it were not otherwise undesirable, to have the child in court. If the child's absence makes it more likely that an accused person will get the benefit of the doubt and be acquitted, even though he is guilty, that would be counter-productive. Therefore, the quality of the television must be excellent.
At present, defence solicitors and counsel say to an accused person in these circumstances, "You must realise that if you are guilty and are found guilty, and have caused a little child to go into court to give this kind of evidence, you will receive no mercy whatever from the judge." That constitutes a great deal of proper pressure on an accused person who is guilty to plead guilty and avoid what might be the worst consequences of trying to brazen it out and force a child into the witness box to give evidence.
If it becomes easier for an accused person to plead not guilty and see how matters develop on television, the measure may be counter-productive. I do not want that to happen. That is another reason for considering the matter with care, lest someone who is guilty finds it easier to be acquitted under the television system than under the present one.
According to clause 21 and new clause 6, the television link cannot be used without the leave of the court. Defense 972 counsel might say that he did not want the television link, and the judge might say that he overruled him, and wished to keep it.
If there is a television link and the man is convicted, there could be an appeal. If someone who was otherwise guilty and would have been convicted was acquitted on appeal because he had not had a fair trial, as the wishes of his counsel had not been observed by the judge, who gave his leave for a television link instead of refusing it, that, too, would be counter-productive. The Lord Chief Justice will have to lay down careful guidelines on the way in which a judge at a Crown court deals with these video links—
§ Mr. Lawrence
—and circulate them to Crown court judges, so that they can follow and abide by carefully worked-out procedures.
There are dangers in this procedure, but I do not think that they outweigh the very real advantages. If they do not, we will strike a significant blow against the child abuser. Because there are dangers, there must be care. Every detail must be properly worked out so that nothing goes wrong. Although I should like to see this matter concluded as quickly as possible, I do not think that it would he right for my right hon. Friend to skip over any of these problems in order to put the matter immediately or very speedily into action.
I hope that my remarks have not been too lengthy.
§ Mrs. Golding
May I say how much I welcome the Minister's remarks on new clause 7? We welcome the comment that perhaps one day its provisions will come to fruition. I welcome also what the Minister said on new clause 8 about the live video link. Perhaps when he looks at the proposal in new clause 8, when he considers additions to clause 21, he will see how excellent new clause 8 is.
On new clause 6, while I welcome some of the things that the Minister said, I cannot see that there are any real difficulties with the new clause. It has been gone through most carefully to get rid of many of the objections raised in the House, and although I understand that the Minister needs to consult the legal profession—perhaps it is the main stumbling block in his mind—other professions have put their weight behind the new clause. The nursing profession, the National Children's Bureau, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the Police Federation—many people—have already considered these things and said that this provision needs to be made now. I hope that when the Home Secretary makes his statement to the House he will ensure that it is something that can happen in this Bill and not have to be carried over for yet another Bill.
I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.