It was incredibly sad to read about Mrs Frances Andrade this week who killed herself after giving evidence against her abuser, Michael Brewer.
Although, I no longer practice criminal law, I do remember as a young lawyer “cutting my teeth” at the Magistrates Court and the dilemma I faced on how I should cross examine a prosecution witness at trial when defending a client. Sexual abuse cases are particularly difficult and highlight the cruelty of the criminal justice system.
There are two competing rights that need to be reconciled. Firstly, those who commit any criminal offence are caught and punished and secondly those charged with a criminal offence are entitled to a fair trial and to have a lawyer who tests the prosecution case.
There are some very helpful measures already in place to help witnesses who are vulnerable or make sexual allegations including their entitlement to anonymity and the ability to give evidence through a video link. It seems, however, that Mrs Andrade bravely chose to face Mr Brewer in open Court.
As well as Judges being more prepared to intervene to prevent the bullying and badgering of prosecution witnesses, I believe all sexual abuse cases should go to Trial much more quickly. There should be a presumption that serious sexual allegations should be tried within 6 months of when a person is charged. This would not only alleviate the suffering of the witnesses but also of an innocent Defendant.
I think we are all agreed that we should try and find other measures to protect victims like Mrs Andrade and to lessen the suffering and distress caused to them by the criminal justice system. She was very brave to have given evidence in open Court and we should try to ensure that other similar witnesses in the future do not suffer as she did.