Child Sex Case Judges to Be Specially Vetted
Byline: Steve Doughty Social Affairs Correspondent
SEX offence trials involving vulnerable children are to be conducted by a team of specially vetted judges, the Lord Chief Justice said yesterday.
The small group of highly experienced judges will also undergo 'bespoke training' to help protect weak and exposed child witnesses, Lord Judge said.
His decision to introduce tighter restrictions on the list of judges who can run the most sensitive and potentially brutal sexual exploitation cases was sent to MPs on the Home Affairs Select Committee, who expressed concerns recently over the way some trials were conducted.
The move follows deepening alarm at the treatment of children by lawyers and judges in cases involving paedophilia charges and alleged sex gangs.
Lord Judge said the new rules will apply to the choice of judges who sit in serious sex cases in which one of the witnesses is regarded as 'significantly vulnerable' and is expected to give evidence 'in circumstances that call for especially sensitive handling'.
The system will also operate in cases that involve a number of defendants and are expected to go on for more than ten days.
Judges in such cases are already chosen from a list of trained and experienced judiciary who are supposed to be versed in methods of stopping defence lawyers from subjecting child witnesses to 'oppressive' cross examination.
But Lord Judge told committee chairman Keith Vaz that while he thought the system worked 'extremely well', he accepted that there were a 'very few cases in which valid criticisms have been made of the treatment of vulnerable witnesses'.
Under the new system, judges will be on the sex case list only if they have been approved by the Presiding Judge, who is in charge of a regional circuit of courts, and the Resident Judge, who is the chief judge at the Crown Court involved. …