HC Deb 13 May 1993 vol 224 cc922-3
1. Mr. French

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department when he expects to receive the results of the independent research he has commissioned on the use of video-recorded evidence in child abuse cases; and if he will make a statement.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. Michael Jack)

We expect to receive the results in January 1995.

Mr. French

Is my hon. Friend aware that, up to last month, there were only seven examples of the use of video evidence in child abuse cases? Does he agree that this form of evidence giving not only enhances the prospect of a safe conviction, but involves minimum extra trauma for the children concerned? Will he seek to promote it, and also consider its relevance to other offences—for example, rape?

Mr. Jack

I thank my hon. Friend for raising the issue. I know that he has campaigned assiduously in his constituency. Let me update him: pre-recorded pre-trial interviews with children have now been presented as evidence in 22 cases, and to date none has been refused. I assure my hon. Friend that we are considering the development of this important way of giving evidence. A new pack has been issued to help and educate children in the act of giving witness evidence; once we know more about this method—which is the aim of the report—we shall consider extending it in due course.

Mr. Allen

Will the Minister pass my congratulations to his interdepartmental team, and in particular to the Department of Health? They have done some very good work.

Will the Minister go a step further? Does he accept that there is a great deal of concern about the disparate quality of research? Will he try to pull the research together in a national centre, and perhaps set up regional centres for both abusers and, more important, the abused? If he were prepared to do that—or, at least, to undertake to review the policy—he would bring great relief to the hundreds of thousands of victims of child and, indeed, sexual abuse, whose lives are being blighted.

Mr. Jack

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his responsible attitude to this development, which is a product of the Criminal Justice Act 1991. I know from my visits to, for example, the Kent police's vulnerable victims suite that many police forces are now developing a particularly sympathetic and careful way of dealing with such evidence, and I am sure that they will discover more cases of child abuse as a result. Much of what has been done now needs to be evaluated; during that excercise, I shall bear in mind what the hon. Gentleman has said.

Mr. Riddick

The use of video-recorded evidence is, of course, very helpful, but would it not also be beneficial to abolish the right to silence in child abuse cases? That would also be useful in terrorism cases. Is it not time that juries were allowed to draw an inference from a suspect's refusal to say where he was or what he was doing at a certain time? The innocent will have nothing to hide. Is not the right to silence the criminal's best friend?

Mr. Jack

I know from earlier exchanges how many right hon. and hon. Members are troubled about that. My right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary has received a copy of the report by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which deals with some of the issues. Although the report reached no firm conclusions, we have read it carefully and will consider its findings, together with the Royal Commission on criminal justice, whose report will doubtless include comment on the important point that my hon. Friend has raised.