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3.4 Child Witnesses in Therapy

Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Procedure


1. Introduction

This procedure addresses the provision of therapy (counselling or psychotherapy) for a child who is a witness in criminal proceedings. This is distinct from the provision of child witness support, a service offered to help support and prepare every child called as a witness at such proceedings.

The Home Office, Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) and Department of Health have issued jointly, practice guidance for the Provision of Therapy for Child Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial.

The guidance makes it clear that the best interests of the child are paramount when deciding whether, and in what form, therapeutic help is given to a child witness in criminal proceedings. Those involved in the prosecution of an alleged abuser have no authority to prevent a child from receiving therapy.


2. Procedure

If an allegation of abuse is received prior to therapy being provided, an evidential statement must be made or recorded on video, before any therapy commences.

If any LSCB agency becomes aware that a child who is a witness in criminal proceedings is in need of, is requesting, is about to receive, or is receiving, pre-trial therapy then they must inform the police officer in the case as soon as possible. The police officer is responsible for informing the CPS.

Consideration may need to be given to calling a multi-agency meeting that may include the therapist and / or the parents or carers of the child.

While some forms of therapy may undermine the evidence given by the witness, this will not automatically be the case. The CPS will offer advice, as requested in individual cases, on the likely impact on the evidence of the child receiving therapy.

If the prosecutor advises that the proposed therapy may prejudice the criminal case, those responsible for the child’s welfare should take this into account when deciding whether to agree to the therapy. It may still be in the best interests of the child to proceed with the therapy.

Therapists

The therapist:

  • Should have appropriate training for the type of work to be undertaken – membership of an appropriate professional body or other recognised competence may be an indication of suitability;
  • Must be made aware of any pending criminal proceedings before commencing the therapy;
  • Be aware of the implications of using techniques which may result in the child’s evidence being discredited (and read practice guidance for the Provision of Therapy for Child Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial);
  • Should avoid using leading questions / group techniques and detailed recounting / re-enactments of the abuse;
  • Must refer any materially new allegation/s (including disclosures of the child’s own abusive behaviour) to Local Authority Children’s Services / Police / CPS (see If New Allegations Made);
  • May be called as a witness in any proceedings.

Recording and Confidentiality

It is vital that a comprehensive record is made of any therapeutic work undertaken, and that any such records are preserved.

At the outset the child and carers should be informed of the circumstances under which material obtained during therapy might be required to be disclosed.

If New Allegations Made

Prosecutors must be informed if an allegation arises during therapeutic sessions.

Prosecutors must be informed that the witness has received therapy and the prosecutors must obtain an assurance that the witness did not, in therapy session say anything inconsistent with the statements made by the witness to the police.

A decision as to how to proceed with regard to the therapy should be taken in a multi-agency meeting.

End