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Child victims and protective measures


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This jumped out at me from the newspaper the other day:

People who may find it difficult to give their best possible evidence in a courtroom environment and all child victims will be considered in the pilot areas.

This allows them to give evidence and be cross-examined by both prosecution and defence barristers ahead of the trial, in front of a judge, and then it is shown to the jury as part of the trial.

Three crown courts – Leeds, Liverpool and Kingston-upon-Thames – are testing pre-trial cross-examination this year.

Following a visit to Kingston-upon-Thames crown court to see how it would work in practice, victims’ minister Damian Green said: “It is crucial that people who have experienced or reported horrific crimes are given the highest possible level of protection and support. I am determined that their needs will be put first.

“It is vital the right to a fair trial is upheld. As part of that, if someone is accused of a crime they should be brought to justice as swiftly as possible.

“If you have experienced a horrendous crime, giving evidence in the pressured environment of a live courtroom, in front of the jury and the public gallery, can be intimidating and perhaps too much to ask.

“That’s why we are trying a new approach, the first of its kind, which prioritises the victim.”

“I hope this test will allow pre-trial cross-examination to take place more widely.”

There is even a very good YouTube video:

It often seems to escape Home Office officials, judges and even their own lawyers that child asylum seekers are victims first and foremost. Child asylum seekers may not risk being in the same room as a past abuser, but they are certainly victims of trauma and often violence. Yet pretty much zero protective measures are put in place for their protection. Instead, they are subjected to repeat questioning throughout the asylum process, sometimes of an insensitive nature.

If you are interested in best practice in the representation of children in the immigration tribunal, do take a look at the ILPA guides, one of which I had a hand in:

Working with children and young people subject to immigration control: Guidelines for best practice (second edition, March 2012), ILPA/Heaven Crawley.

Working with refugee childen: current issues in best practice (second edition, February 2012) Syd Bolton, Kalvir Kaur, Shu Shin Luh, Jackie Peirce and Colin Yeo for ILPA.

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Colin Yeo

Immigration and asylum barrister, blogger, writer and consultant at Garden Court Chambers in London and founder of the Free Movement immigration law website.


2 Responses

  1. Thanks for raising this interesting issue. While the importance of protection of the child throughout the process is rightly emphasised in the ILPA guidance, in my experience where child witnesses (rather than Appellants in their own right) are concerned the difficulty is rather persuading the Tribunal to allow them to give evidence.
    The practice direction rightly states that the tribunal should refuse to permit a child to be called where their evidence is not necessary and their welfare would be prejudiced otherwise. But judges seem minded to refuse to hear child witnesses simply on the basis that their evidence has been provided by way of a witness statement. It can be very difficult to understand e.g. just how much regular short visits from a parent mean to a child from a statement that has ultimately been drawn up by an adult instructed by the Appellant, whereas the same words simply expressed live by a child can wipe away all doubt.
    Effective protection can be provided though prior agreement – or even a ruling if necessary – on the nature and extent of any cross examination, should any be necessary at all.

    1. It is a real difficulty – protecting the child can sometimes be at the expense of denying the child the right to be heard, which can in fact be far more damaging in the long run. Strong protective measures to enable children to give evidence safely have to be the right way forward, at least where a child wants to give evidence.