UK

Child Abuse May Have Been 'Ignored' Because Of Old Values, Says Lord Chief Justice

20/03/2013 19:01 GMT

The belief that "children should be seen and not heard" may have led to earlier generations of youngsters being ignored when they claimed they were sexually abused, the most senior judge in England and Wales has said.

In a lecture at King's College London on Wednesday evening, the Lord Chief Justice Lord Judge said so many historic sexual abuse cases are emerging because the country is "catching up with the consequences of the problems ignored or created by earlier generations".

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Lord Judge said very few cases of child sexual abuse in the 60s, 70s and 80s went to court

His comments come in the aftermath of revelations surrounding disgraced TV presenter Jimmy Savile, whose catalogue of sexual abuse dates back to the 1950s.

The Lord Chief Justice said: "Let us just go back to those days, and ask ourselves why so many historic sexual abuse cases are now emerging.

"In part at least it is because those who were children then were not listened to. Are any of you old enough to remember that "children should be seen and not heard"?

"Of course this was to do with manners, to do with children not showing off, and so on, but maybe, just maybe, this line of thinking encouraged the thought that children were not worth listening to, and not to be believed when they made allegations of sexual molestation which earlier generations refused to countenance as a reality."

The Lord Chief Justice said rules to protect the innocent from wrongful conviction "closed the door" on many children.

He said there were very few cases of child sexual abuse in the 60s, 70s and 80s, firstly because "so few cases were brought" and secondly because when they were brought "so few resulted in convictions".

Lord Judge described how children would have to walk through the same door as the man they were accusing, wait in the same public area.

Children would be called into the witness box in full view of the defendant and defence counsel "put them" in evidence.

He said: "No one, or at any rate no one articulated any concern about how much more likely the child would be to freeze up or, no better, to become confused.

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The Lord Chief Justice called for "properly gathered statistics" of the number of child victims

"Nor did anyone reflect that perhaps the very last thing any child who had been sexually molested would wish to do would be to tell a whole crowd of strangers in an unfamiliar place about something dirty and nasty that had happened."

But Lord Judge warned that in another 50 years, people may look back at current processes differently.

He said: "We need to be very sure indeed that our grandchildren, 50 years from now, may not be astounded, and appalled, at the way we do things now.

"What we are doing reflects what we believe to be the best that we can, or perhaps putting it another way, we are striving to do the best that we can. Fifty years from now they may not see it this way."

The Lord Chief Justice said the introduction of children's evidence by live link, accompanied by a supporter, screening witnesses from defendants and removal of wigs and gowns are among steps taken to improve conditions.

He also called for "properly gathered statistics" of the number of child victims who are involved in the criminal justice process, categorised into those who make complaints and provide evidence followed by different pleas.

But he added: "Desirable although this is, on Budget Day particularly, I should perhaps add a footnote - staff at court have been cut, staff in the CPS have been cut, everywhere there are budgetary restraints.

"We have to beware of the temptation to think that because improvements are desirable they come at no cost for those responsible for their implementation."