DPP:help kids in court

The Director of Public Prosecutions, Barbara Mills, has backed calls for national guidelines on the treatmentof children in court to be applied across the criminal justice system.

At the launch last week of Children in Court, a report by Victim Support, Mills said there was a clear need for improvement in the way children giving evidence were treated, and called for better co-ordination between parties in the criminal justice system.”

Mills announced the future release of a best-practice video on the subject and called for national standards to be implemented across the criminal justice system. She said: “The CPS is committed to making improvements, but we can't do it single-handed. We have internal national standards, but it is essential we have them throughout the system.”

She said the video would show judges and lawyers that language in court can be inappropriate when addressing children. “I see it as a big step forward. It is important that all judges see it.”

The report found that attending court was a stressful experience for children and that there was no consistency in treatment from court to court.

It recommends national guidelines be drawn up for pre-trial preparation of child witnesses, that children remain at home until required to give evidence, that a supporter be allowed into the close circuit TV link room with the child and that judges ensure cross-examination is conducted at a level appropriate to the child's age.

Leading child law barrister, Allan Levy QC, agreed children needed to be helped and supervised at every stage. “Preparation of children is vital. They are often flung in a the deep end.”

But Ian Chisholm, of the criminal policy directorate at the Home Office, warned: “With a fragmented system, we have to operate by consensus and that is not always easy.”