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The last 10 years of historical abuse allegations a wasted decade in restoring balance in our justice system

In 2009 Mark Barlow and Mark Newby hosted a conference which brought all participants in the Criminal Justice System together to talk about the challenges of historical allegations . A paper was issued for that conference and has been referenced since in both the media and academic texts . You can access the paper here : The Challenges of Historic Allegations

On 29th September 2019 the authors spoke at the FACT Conference in Birmingham and took the opportunity to revisit what has been a tulmutious 10 years since then arguing that the last 10 years has led to a further decline in the prospects of the falsely accused being able to defend themselves in our criminal justice system

You can access the paper here : the challenges of historic allegations 2019V7

Allegations of past sexual abuse continue to create enormous challenges for the criminal justice system. With both domestic and care home cases presenting related but different difficulties to those accused of such emotive crimes. The natural desire to bringing to justice the perpetrators of such crimes continues to compromise the individual’s right to a fair trial . The last 10 years have arguably marked a further decline in the prospect of those falsely accused being able to gain a fair hearing through the Criminal Justice System.

The authors comment that :

The balance between the rights of victims and those of the accused is never going to be an easy task. The competing demands and expectations on our justice system, resulting in an increasing cost to the public purse and the potential for undermining public confidence in our legal process justifies an extensive review of how we deal with these difficult cases.

The authors address the “new religion ” of believing without question complaints and how that has and should develop following the fallout from Operation Midland to achieve an investigation that roots out genuine complaints and protects the falsely accused .

They look to the approach of the CACD and the recent case of R v PR [ 2019 ] EWCA Crim 1225 and the high watermark of the case of Sheikh which he court has reinforced . They draw upon recent research into the CCRC and suggest that the commission has to do much better in the way it reviews sexual offence cases .

Finally they look to the current atmosphere noting :

The safety and fairness of the law, to ensure fairness to the accused is no longer guaranteed. The lessons that should have been learnt from the past have been ignored. This is further exacerbated by the malaise in our Criminal Justice System where every aspect of it is underfunded and in disarray. In was hard enough for those wrongfully accused in the past to secure justice but the current state of the system, disclosure failures, rise of digital evidence and the decline in public funding make accessing justice almost impossible.

Further many of those accused have built up reasonable assets and find themselves ineligible for legal aid or with extensive contributions. The ultimate insult for the wrongfully accused is even if they prove their innocence where they have funded their case, they will only get back a percentage of their legal costs.

And if they were wrongfully convicted and against all the odds persuade the Court of Appeal to quash their conviction then there is almost no hope they will be compensated by the state. [1]

[1] Now on appeal to Strasbourg

It is considered that there has to be change and that following the reccomendations of the Justice Committee in 2014 which called for a view of the test for miscarriage they hope the Westminster Commission will add its voice to the call for reform .

Reflecting as they conclude what we would expect if we were falsely accused

When a law abiding middle aged citizen gets a knock on the door and is accused of committing offences 30 , 40 or 50 years ago they are entitled to the justice you or I would expect , a fair hearing with full disclosure and no unfair prejudice , isn’t it time that we did a lot better .

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