National child abuse enquiry prompts accreditation calls

A NATIONAL inquiry into child abuse has prompted calls for compulsory accreditation and performance monitoring for all lawyers working with at-risk children.

The National Commission of Inquiry into the Prevention of Child Abuse, chaired by Lord Williams of Mostyn, published findings last month that were highly critical of the legal system's handling of child abuse cases.

The Commission, which was established two years ago and funded by a national children's charity, recommended an accreditation scheme for lawyers dealing with child abuse cases.

An implementation committee will now meet with lawyers to discuss the issue.

Solicitor David Hodson, who heads the Solicitors Family Law Association accreditation group, said the association supported compulsory accreditation. He stressed that lawyers in the field were not only dealing with legal issues, but also complex emotional factors.

Jeremy Barley, secretary of the 500-member Association of Lawyers for Children, said the association was also leaning towards compulsory accreditation and was in favour of a regular monitoring programme for lawyers dealing with children.

The inquiry heard that some children said they found giving evidence as terrifying as the abuse itself. It recommended:

All judges and advocates acting in criminal cases involving child witnesses and children receive specialist training within two years.

Changes should be considered to avoid intimidating children who find traditional court clothing imposing.

Less focus on law, regulation and guidance, and more attention to principles, standards and training.