Reviewed by: David R Pickup
Author: Edited by John R Spencer and Michael E Lamb
Publisher: Hart Publishing
The thesis of this collection of essays is that the treatment of a young child’s evidence in criminal proceedings needs to be radically changed. In 1989 the Pigot Committee recommended that all of a child’s evidence including cross-examination would be obtained prior to the trial. A section to this effect was included in the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act but has not been brought into force.
We are left with what the authors call ‘Half Pigot’, whereby many of the legal restrictions on children’s evidence such as the need for corroboration and inadmissibility of unsworn evidence have been largely removed. A strong case for ‘Full Pigot’ is made by reference to the needs of this country, and comparisons with other jurisdictions both common law and European.
As lawyers we need to know how the legal system is viewed by the public and it is clear it often lets down the victims of crime, and particularly children, in a terrible way. There is a constant friction between the rights of the accused and the interest in securing convictions.
The premise of this book is that children’s evidence should be treated wholly differently from others. My concern is ‘Full Pigot’ would be the thin end of a not particularly nice wedge. If children’s evidence is taken out of court, no doubt by experts, why not treat other evidence in the same way? The book points out that courts are extremely unsuitable for children. The buildings, the language used in court, and above all the delay between the investigation and the trial, coupled with the waiting around during the hearing, are all intolerable in different ways. Much is made in this book of ‘Old Bailey-style’ cross-examination by barristers seeking to confuse children.
Having mini-trials, separate trials, secret trials, are all tempting but misguided. The prime safeguard of our procedure is the jury. This is a fascinating debate and well argued in this interesting book. In my view we should proceed with extreme caution.
David Pickup is a partner at Aylesbury-based Pickup & Scott