THE number of child sex abusers being taken to court has soared in recent years because police and prosecutors are more willing to pursue the cases of witnesses with a “difficult history”, the Attorney General has claimed.
Dominic Grieve said a “sea change” in the way police forces and the Crown Prosecution Service approach child sexual exploitation cases led to many coming forward “which might previously have never seen the light of day”.
But he said he had “no reason to think” that any historic cases had previously been mis-handled by the CPS in South Yorkshire, despite the county’s Police and Crime Commissioner recently requesting a review of all local cases involving the service.
Speaking on a visit to the CPS base in Leeds, where he heard presentations from staff on subjects including honour-based violence and drug importation prosecutions, he said taboos over child sex exploitation had “broken down” in recent years.
He told the Yorkshire Post: “As a result we have had a very large number of cases coming forward, which perhaps might previously have never seen the light of day, and that is very much to be welcomed.”
Mr Grieve added: “There are evidential difficulties with these cases, some of them are very old and one of the issues is that in many cases you are dealing with victims who may not necessarily be the easiest people to find and to act as witnesses.
“One of the things that the last Director of Public Prosecutions has really concentrated on, and I know the CPS takes seriously, is that we must never go back to the position which did prevail some years ago, where because the witness was thought to have a difficult history and therefore to be unreliable, therefore it was thought that such a case could not be brought.
“That I think is the big sea change in the way the CPS and the police are approaching these cases. That is the reason, I suspect, why there has been such a growth rate in these cases being prosecuted.”
A number of celebrities have been arrested and charged with historic child sex offences under the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Yewtree since the Jimmy Savile scandal emerged last year.
And this summer, police and prosecutors and police were told to focus on the credibility of children rather than the reasons why they should not be believed.
In South Yorkshire, Police and Crime Commissioner Shaun Wright has ordered a review by the local CPS into whether charges should have been brought in historic cases.
Mr Grieve, the Government Minister who oversees the CPS, said: “I have no reason to think that any CPS cases in South Yorkshire have been improperly handled by the CPS in the past.”
During his visit to Leeds, he visited the Personal Support Unit at Leeds Combined Court Centre, which opened this year. The unit is a free service that supports those who choose to represent themselves in court through civil and family court proceedings.
He also warned that a decline in crime means there is now not enough work for criminal barristers to do, and that many will have to look elsewhere for work.
This week 100 lawyers met outside Sheffield Crown Court to oppose reforms which they say will see access to legal aid limited, lawyers’ fees slashed and less experienced lawyers taking on more serious cases.