UK

DPP Alison Saunders: Sex abuse court cases 'could be rebalanced'

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Media captionThe new Director of Public Prosecutions on helping witnesses before they give evidence in court

Historical sexual abuse cases could be "rebalanced" to make it "a little fairer" for victims to give evidence, Alison Saunders has said.

The director of public prosecutions in England and Wales told the BBC victims could be told things such as what the defence case would be.

But she ruled out a change in the law.

It comes after an inquest ruled that a violinist died after taking an overdose a week after testifying against her former teacher.

'Real issue'

Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Frances Andrade was 14 when the abuse at Chetham's School of Music in Manchester began

Ms Saunders told the BBC's Andrew Marr show there was a "real issue" about whether victims were being treated fairly.

"That's why we're looking at, and I'm looking at, how we night rebalance the process so that it is a little fairer for victims and witnesses to give evidence."

She said she had spoken to one victim who told her she had "waited a number of months before she gave evidence - not knowing what she was going to be asked".

"And she said that was worse than actually going in and being cross-examined, so I think there's more we can to do to tell victims and witnesses what they're going to face."

Ms Saunders said changes must be made "within the confines of ensuring there's a fair trial, making sure the defendant is able to have a fair trial - but there is more we can do".

"We don't have to coach the witnesses, we don't rehearse them and I'm not suggesting for one moment that we do that.

"But we could tell them what the defence is going to be, perhaps.

"We could tell them a little bit more about what they're going to face."

She said a change in the law was unnecessary.

"I can do some of this through guidance to my prosecutors.

"I'll be talking to other people within the criminal justice system to consult with them.

"But I think there's more we can do within the existing law as it is."

'Reacting to people'

Asked if celebrities involved in recent alleged historical sexual abuse cases had been pursued because of their status, she replied: "That's not what we are doing - I'm very clear about this.

"We are not pursuing particular types of people.

"What we are doing is reacting to people who have come forward with complaints."

Last week, the inquest into the death of 48-year-old violin teacher Frances Andrade, who died at her home in Surrey last January, was told she spiralled into despair after giving evidence at the trial of former choirmaster Michael Brewer.

The coroner said new rules were needed to ensure vulnerable witnesses were supported.

He said he would be writing three reports, two to the director of public prosecutions and one to the local health service, calling for changes.

Brewer was jailed for six years in 2013 for indecent assault against Mrs Andrade.

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