Potential for miscarriages of justice in historic sex claim investigations

21 May 2015

A combination of reports published this week heralds the increase in potential miscarriages of Justice in cases which concern allegations of historic sexual abuse.

The first relates to Theresa May’s address to the Police Federation Conference where she indicated more cuts in police funding and in effect, telling the police they have to get on with it.   

The other report relates to the large number of historic sex investigations that are currently on-going. The report stated that there have been 1,400 investigations into historic sex abuse since the Jimmy Saville sex scandal broke. It said inter alia that more potential victims have the courage to come forward in the light of the successes of Operation Yewtree.

As someone who has been heavily involved in Operation Yewtree cases, I am concerned that in circumstances where there are police cuts coupled with an increasing number of historic sex allegations being actively investigated, the ingredients for a perfect storm arises with the resultant potential for an increase in miscarriages of justice.  

It goes without saying that investigations into historic sex abusers must be fair and balanced.

It goes without saying that investigations into historic sex abusers must be fair and balanced.   They rightly require concerted and detailed investigations. The evidence is often decades old and the usual forms of evidential support e.g. eye witnesses or physical evidence is rarely present.  As far as possible, reliable evidence should include obtaining corroboration of the complainant’s evidence where it relates to matters which took place many years ago.

Where a person appears in the public eye or is otherwise well known to the complainant as a result of their occupation or circumstances, the need for the thorough traditional policing of the type that we seem not to be able to afford becomes an imperative requirement of our justice system. 

It is in this climate that police and prosecutors have come to overly rely on the number of complainants coming forward as tantamount to corroboration. What has previously been described as a lazy and unfair investigation/prosecution, in the light of this week’s report may simply be the level of justice we can afford.  Being named, let alone convicted of these offences has devastating effects on the accused, their families and their communities. The confidence we have in the criminal justice system is based on the fundamental premise that our system is fair, and that allegations are robustly investigated and cases are presented relying on the best evidence sufficient to warrant the intrusion of the state. 

What is clear from the reports this week is that in cases where there is an allegation of historic sexual abuse, there is increasing pressure on prosecutors to prosecute more and more offences, and an equal and opposite diminution in the resources made available to fully and properly investigate them. I have a real concern that this could lead to miscarriages of justice in the near future.    

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