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Baldry writes to Lord Chancellor to express concerns over Banbury Grooming trial

9 March 2015

Following the conclusion of the Banbury grooming trial at the end of last week and subsequent media reports over the weekend, North Oxfordshire MP the Rt. Hon. Sir Tony Baldry has written to the Lord Chancellor to express concerns over the trial.

The full text of Sir Tony’s letter can be found below.

Rt. Hon. Chris Grayling, MP
Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice,
Ministry of Justice

9 March 2015

Dear Chris,

Child Abuse

The trial concluded last week at Oxford Crown Court concerning six children from my constituency who were groomed and used for gang sex by a number of men, also constituents of mine.

One was found guilty of 13 counts of sexual activity with a child.

Two were convicted of two offences of sexual activity with a child.

One was convicted of one offence of sexual activity with a child and a 17-year-old was found guilty of rape.

All the victims were children.

All had been serially abused.

Counsel for the Crown told the Court that the men had used threats and violence to hold the children under their sway.

As you will know, one of the challenges for social workers and the police is to win the confidence and the trust of children who have been groomed and who have been victims of sexual exploitation, and to provide children who have been sexually abused with the support and protection needed whilst building evidence to bring their abusers to justice.

For child victims such as these, I suspect one of their most serious concerns is the whole ordeal of having to give evidence in Court.

In this particular case it is reported that Michael Magarian, QC, one of the Counsel for the Defence, claimed “it is better to be a victim than a slag. Once you are a victim who has been groomed, you no longer have to take any responsibility for anything that you did”.

Michael Magarian, QC also alleged that the case was “a police manufactured case”, and it is suggested that the child victims concerned could have been “brain-washed by social workers”.

And another Defence Counsel, Clare Dowse, alleged that these children “might be enjoying all the attention from police and social services”.

The comments of the Defence Counsel cause me serious concern.

As a member of the Bar myself, I know that Defence Counsel have a duty to put their client’s case to the Court.

However, I cannot envisage any circumstances in which it is appropriate for members of the English Bar to describe victims of child abuse as “slags”.

It would seem to suggest that Defence Counsel has simply not grasped the fact that children cannot by definition consent to such sexual activity but the term “slag” can only be suggested to the jury to give an impression that the victims were in some way responsible for their abuse.

It is unacceptable for senior Counsel to be suggesting that a child can consent to abuse.

One also has to assume that Counsel is only running such a defence on the explicit instructions of their clients.

When criminal courts in England hear arguments from Defence Counsel on what may be an appropriate sentence, they are often referred to as pleas in mitigation, i.e. that Defence Counsel seeks to put before the Court every point on behalf of their client that they consider the Court should have regard to in determining sentence.

Might I suggest that there may also be circumstances when the sentencing Judge may consider that it is appropriate that the way in which a Defence has been run of itself is an aggravating factor?

Likewise, if Defence Counsel are running the defence that the Prosecution is “ . . . a police manufactured case”, or that the victims have reported abuse because they are “ . . . enjoying the attention from police and social services”, again one has to assume that such a defence is being run on the explicit instructions of their clients. If so, I would suggest that the fact that their clients have asked them to run such a defence, should be required to be endorsed on Counsel’s Back Sheet, and should be considered an aggravating factor when determining sentence.

Also, if there is no credible prima facie evidence of police or social services manufacturing a case, or police and/or social services conspiring to manufacture a case, I think it begs a question as to where under the Code of Conduct for the Bar, is the appropriate line between properly and professionally representing one’s clients, and improperly besmirching child victims who, under our system of Court procedure, have no right of reply.

That senior members of the Bar should be allowed to suggest to the jury that the child victims in the Banbury case were to blame for what happened to them is, I suggest, totally wrong.

I suspect that as a consequence of the Rotheram and Oxford cases, other child victims of sexual abuse will come forward and that in due course Crown Courts elsewhere in England are going to have to consider cases of this kind, and I think this begs the question as to what guidance the Lord Chief Justice should give to Trial Judges as to the latitude that Defence Counsel should be given to be able to accuse child victims of such things as “being slags”, or Defence Counsel being allowed to suggest to juries that children can in some way be responsible for their own abuse, and I think there are also some issues here for the Bar Standards Board, the Bar Council and the Criminal Bar Association, as to where are the appropriate boundaries for Defence Counsel between properly representing one’s clients, and improperly adding to the hurt of children who have already been abused.

I would be grateful if you would consider these points.

I am copying this letter to the Home Secretary, the Secretary of State for Education, the Chairman of the Bar Council and the Chairman of the Bar Standards Board, and given that the Prime Minister chaired a Summit on child abuse only last week, I am also copying this letter to the Prime Minister.

Yours sincerely

Rt. Hon. Sir Tony Baldry