The sexualisation and abuse of young boys and girls is rightly a criminal offence. Paedophiles and paedophile rings should be stopped and prosecuted with the full force of the law. I do not believe there are many who would argue with that.
The problem arises when dealing with historical cases where there is little or no evidence.
In the past when people came forward to complain they were disbelieved, ignored and scorned. Their complaints were brushed under the carpet. It enabled priests and sex offenders like Jimmy Saville to operate with impunity.
The police and authorities were guilty of creating a climate in which paedophiles and paedophile rings were condoned.
Following the Jimmy Saville scandal the pendulum has swung the other way. Now everyone coming forward is believed and the accused are considered guilty before being tried. Sexual offences have become seen as being worse than murder. It has opened the door for many people to come forward with genuine complaints that require addressing. But it has also opened the door for malicious accusations.
The police and Crown Prosecution have the unenviable task of deciding which category the complaints fit into and whether there is evidence to prosecute.
The trouble is that prosecuting an innocent person creates a victim of the accused and the effects of that are, as we have seen, as bad as being a sexual victim.
Not only that – but the law seems to lack the nuance to deal with rape and underage sex.
It is time the balance is readjusted.
When a complainant comes forward they should always be listened to sympathetically and evidence followed up. That was previously missing from police procedure and led to paedophiles escaping justice.
The job of the police is to gather evidence of a crime – not to take sides. They do not have to believe or disbelieve. They have to dispassionately investigate to attempt to gather evidence.
The rights of the accused have to be taken into account even if that makes the investigation more difficult. By naming the accused or ‘fishing’ for other complainants the police are in danger of making victims of innocent people.
There is a danger that social groups or individuals can be ‘unfairly’ targeted by police. I believe this has happened with the drug laws.
The Crown Prosecution has the task of reviewing the evidence and deciding whether there is sufficient to proceed to a trial. If there isn’t then they should not proceed. If they suspect there has been a crime then they should instruct the police to seek more evidence and keep the case live.
I fear that with the Yew-tree Operation the police have been in danger of taking sides. They have been too willing to believe the accuser and too eager to target certain people.
I fear that the Crown Prosecution have been too unwilling to say no – there isn’t sufficient evidence. They have preferred to put it before a jury.
I believe the delay of years is punitive on the accused and causes undue trauma and distress.
The way forward needs to be a fairer balance. The accuser needs anonymity as does the accused. They should both be treated humanely. The Crown Prosecution needs to exercise its powers properly and not prosecute on hearsay. The police should not fish for evidence or target specific groups. The process needs speeding up. Innocent until proven guilty should be re-established.
If the accuser does not have the evidence then a prosecution is not the way forward. A better way would be to use a process of mediation – Restorative Justice can really work to help psychologically and probably has better outcomes than anything else. In my view it should be used in many crimes. Bringing the accuser and accused together to resolve issues in a conducive manner with a trained mediator is better than the trauma of a trial. I do not believe that punitive sentences are often the best way forward.
Too many reputations have been destroyed. Justice has become a lottery. The adversarial process is about the law and not justice.
The justice system is badly in need of modernisation, speeding up and a major overhaul.
What we have at the moment is not justice at all. The only people who prosper are the barristers, lawyers and establishment.