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Child sexual exploitation: the criminal courts, vulnerable witnesses and threshold in care cases

Date:9 DEC 2013

Elizabeth Tomlinson, Barrister, Harcourt Chambers:

When children who have been sexually abused by gangs and groups enter the public law care system, a natural reaction is that their parents or carers must have known about the abuse and must have failed to protect them. However, the gangs are skilled at keeping the abuse hidden, and abusing children during times when they may reasonably be considered to be elsewhere and safe.

The beyond parental control limb of s 31 (2) (ii) Children Act 1989 is appropriate in such cases. There may be no need to blame the parents, and certainly not the child.  Leading case-law on this section of the Children Act is examined.  In cases where there has also been child abuse within the family recourse to s 31 (2) (i) will of course then be necessary.  

This article begins by focusing on the nature of the problem and the response of the Children's Commissioner and the criminal justice system.  Some key changes in the way that the criminal justice system deals with these vulnerable witnesses are summarised. When children give evidence in care cases, use of enhanced special measures being piloted in the criminal arena could be the way forward.

On 25 November 2013, after this article was published, the Children's Commissioner delivered 'If only someone had listened', the final report of the Inquiry into Child Sexual Exploitation in Gangs and Groups. This final report is the culmination of over two years work by staff led by the Deputy Children's Commissioner and supported by a panel of experts. In total, the Inquiry has now published six reports which are available at www.childrenscommissioner.gov.uk.

The full version of this article appears in the December 2013 issue of Family Law.