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The CPS has published a joint protocol for information sharing in child sex abuse cases. Police and prosecutors are now expected to share and seek appropriate information about vulnerable youngsters with and from social services, schools and family courts in accordance with the protocol and a good practice model. This is supported by senior judges in the criminal and family courts, the Local Government Association, the Department for Education, the Association of Directors of Children Services, the Association of Chief Police Officers, and the Association of Independent Local Safeguarding Children's Board among others.
The protocol, which will come into force on 1 January 2014, will apply to cases involving criminal investigations into alleged child abuse (child victims who were aged 17 and under at the time of the alleged offending) and/or family court proceedings concerning a child (aged 17 and under).
The protocol aims to provide for early notification to local authorities and the family courts that a criminal investigation has been commenced, including providing details of the prosecution and the likely timescale. It is also intended that the protocol will facilitate timely and consistent disclosure of information and documents from the police and the CPS into the family justice system, and vice versa (subject to statutory and common law restrictions). A procedure to achieve timely consultation between the CPS and local authorities is provided for where local authority material satisfies the test in the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 for disclosure to the defence, as is a process for local authorities to respond to requests from the police for material which would assist a criminal investigation. Procedures for applications by the police and/or CPS for permission of the family court to disclose material relating to family court proceedings are also set out, with a further procedure specified for linked directions hearings in concurrent criminal and care proceedings.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, said:
‘The joint information sharing protocol is a real breakthrough. Sharing information, such as school files which may help police and prosecutors piece together compelling evidence of abuse, will now be done. All those who have supported this information sharing protocol share a mutual aim of protecting children, and I am confident that this protocol will help us all to do that.'
The protocol can be found on the CPS website.