Submitted by Her Majesty's Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) (CA 158)
1. In its inspections of CPS Areas, HMCPSI examines case files and considers, amongst other things, the application of the Code for Crown Prosecutors and the handling of cases. It also looks at the relationships and co-operation between the Areas and their local criminal justice partners. Child abuse cases (including cases involving abuse in children's homes) do not form a specific category for inspection but such cases are contained in the file samples and are separately identified on the Inspectorate database. An analysis of these cases gives some indication of our findings about the judgment quality of CPS lawyers in child abuse cases generally and their handling.
2. HMCPSI also carries out thematic inspections either on its own or with other criminal justice inspectorates. There are three which deal with some similar issues and which may have some relevance to this inquiry. They are:
Cases Involving Child Witnesses (Thematic Report 1/98).
Joint Inspection into the Investigation and Prosecution of Rape Offences in England and Wales (Report to be published shortly) (the Rape Report).
Safeguards for Children (a joint inspection, led by Social Services, which is in its early stages and is due to be published in autumn 2002).
3. Most of our assessments will be of relevance to the second issue: "is the Crown Prosecution Service drawing a sensible line about cases which should be prosecuted", but we make some other comments both from our reports and from experienced prosecutors.
4. We are unable to comment on the processes of investigation except in those cases which lead to a charge. However, in those abuse cases which are prosecuted, we found that the CPS is often given insufficient background information. This information is necessary to enable lawyers to make informed decisions about what is in the best interests of the child and should be supplied at an early stage in the process. The Thematic 5. The present cycle of Area inspections began in January 2000. These show that the position appears to be improving. The police now have specialist units with whom many CPS Areas have either protocols or good lines of communication. A new Practice Guide has recently been published on the Provision of Therapy for Vulnerable or Intimidated Adult Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial. The provision (or timely provision) of the video of the child's evidence remains a problem in some Areas.
OUR ASSESSMENT OF THE CPS APPROACH
6. We have analysed the child abuse section of our available database up to January 2002 for those cases in a random sample which comprises those cases that proceed. Our figures show that we considered that proper decisions were taken, in accordance with the evidential test of the Code for Crown Prosecutors in 169 of the 173 relevant cases examined (97.7 per cent) and in all but one of the 172 applications of the public interest test (99.4 per cent). This compares with figures for all cases of 98.5 per cent and 99.8 per cent respectively. Thus, there is no significant difference in the level of disagreement in child abuse cases when compared with all the cases examined.
7. Further, we have made an analysis of findings and comments about child abuse cases in the published reports in our inspection cycle to date. There have been 32 reports. It is important to note, however, that we do not have a set formula. Three reports make no comment at all and others have no comment on specific issues. The issues raised in reports may have a different emphasis from each other.
8. Our assessments are made from evidence from file examination, interviews with CPS staff at all levels, observations in offices and at court, and interviews with local practitioners and representatives of other criminal justice agencies.
9. Some broad issues can be identified. They are as follows:
specialists in child abuse deal with most of the cases in all but one Area;
the great majority of Areas handle these files well. Some log and monitor the progress of cases. In some Areas there can be delay in dealing with issues. In five Areas we had some concern that the child's video evidence was not properly considered in all cases;
in seven Areas we specifically comment on the good co-operation between the CPS and the police; and
in five Areas there were judicial concerns that weak cases proceeded, either through police pressure or when there had been a lack of thorough assessment of the evidence, in particular the ability/credibility of the complainant. In one of these Areas, the concern was particularly strong and was the subject of two suggestions in our report. We did not find any examples in our examination of files which are drawn from a three-month period in each Area, where this might be said to be true, although, as we have already mentioned, there are still some questions about the completeness of background information and its assessment.
10. Other positive comments in the reports include:
the early involvement of counsel to advise in appropriate cases;
the appointment of dedicated specialists on large operations;
good arrangements with Witness Support; and
child abuse specialists in an Area meeting regularly to share experience.
11. The remit of the inspection of Cases Involving Child Witnesses was considerably wider than cases involving child abuse and does not specifically deal with children's home cases. Some findings, however, are relevant to the present inquiry. These include:
CPS staff who deal with child witness cases were well motivated and committed to their work;
there were good working relationships with other specialist units;
decision-making was good;
the quality of guidance (both internal and external) was good; and
the level of background information needed improvement.
12. Time has moved on and we have found in our Area inspections that many of the recommendations that we made in that report have been implemented.
13. One point that is clearly emerging from all our reports is the better quality of work when a specialist is involved. Most Areas have specialists who deal with the majority of the child abuse cases. The difference in the quality of their work is evident when compared with the non-specialist. A balance needs to be found between over specialising (when the edge can be lost) and an apparent tendency of late to spread this work and lose the expertise.
14. Despite the generally positive comments about the handling of files in the Area reports, the evidence gathered in the joint inspection of the Investigation of Rape Offences (which at this time is not yet published) is not so convincing. This evidence shows that we had concerns about the high proportion of cases where it was not clear that the video recording of the child's evidence was viewed before decisions were made.
ADVERTISEMENT OF COMPENSATION
15. Evidence gathered for the Rape Report indicates that there are a number of issues about the question of compensation and its effect on the prosecution. The evidence from this review tends to suggest that the defence are using the fact that a victim has claimed compensation to suggest that they have only made a complaint in order to be able to make a claim. There is no evidence in our file sample to suggest that was indeed the case.
16. Again, evidence for the Rape Report throws some light on this issue. We examined 56 cases with child witnesses. Of these, ten were "historic" allegations. Three were guilty pleas, one a jury conviction, two jury acquittals and the remaining four were dropped by the prosecution. Two of those dropped by the prosecution were stopped after further consideration of abuse of process because of their age. It is interesting to note that the jury conviction was a case which was 25 years old and one of the guilty pleas was to offences up to 40 years before.
17. There are a number of difficulties in setting a time limit. Offences often take place over a period of time, sometimes with victims from several generations, or there may be offences by several defendants, where some may be before and others after the cut-off point. Prosecution would become a lottery depending on the date of recall or report of the offence. Our view is that each case should, as now, be carefully considered on its merits rather than to have a set time limit.