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Solicitor, Straw and Pearce, Loughborough:
In straitened times there is no more funding for court services, and yet recent high profile coverage of issues of child protection, in particular in cases of sexual abuse, has highlighted a pressing need for reform in the interests of children. The current processes potentially require the two different courts (criminal and family) to examine substantially similar material and to then apply the legal test relevant to the process to reach a conclusion. There is no uniformity of personnel, judicial continuity between the two cases, and although the courts historically have urged greater communication, the standardised disclosure processes and lack of understanding of what is necessary in each jurisdiction can lead to confusion, and children going unprotected. The timescales are not joined up and crucial evidence is missed with the potential for child and vulnerable witnesses to have to give evidence twice. In a unique case in our area, the criminal case founded part one of the fact finding. The care advocates were present for the trial, unobtrusively, effectively evidence gathering. In the event of there being no conviction, the court would reconvene itself as a family court and the judge consider on a balance of probabilities, the evidence heard was sufficient to make findings against a perpetrator. Another alternative would be for short adjournment for 'part two' of any other relevant factors for threshold. Significant court resources were saved by the process. The child witness gave evidence once. The care proceedings were able to avoid significant delays. The communication that ought to take place in every case was easily, swiftly and effectively achieved. Justice was done. It may not be achievable in every case, but it should be tried should it not?
The full version of this article appears in the January 2013 issue of Family Law.
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