All of us in the criminal justice world have to work together now to make sure that there never is another death, like that of Frances Andrade, who died in circumstances that point to it being very nearly a direct consequence of becoming a witness in a sexual abuse case and finding it unbearable.
First, it is clear that a police officer somewhere, disastrously, convinced Ms Andrade, probably at an early stage, that if she has counselling it might interfere with her recollections and damage her evidence. The inquest heard that she said that to her GP, to a nurse and her husband and son have confirmed it. She seems to have been told otherwise later, but one assumes she determined that the case came first, at least her suffering might protect the next generation of music students from the defendant if she could testify well. Her son, Oliver, reinforces this when in an article for the Huffington Post in February 2013 he said \”Sticking to her morals she knew she must do what was right, to tell the facts as they were and leave it to the law to decide, even as she was only just beginning to see that Brewer\’s actions were indeed abuse.
\”One of her hopes was that the bravery she exhibited, and the other stories she knew would come out during the trial, would mean that other students who had also suffered abuse at Chetham\’s would be able to receive justice. As always she was fighting for others more than herself\”.
Many victims have been advised similarly not to seek support in the past, an approach both cold-hearted and unwise. That it still exists in policing is evidenced by the former superintendent who is Surrey Police and crime commissioner who said on the airwaves about this case:
\’It is the responsibility of the police to present evidence to the court with a victim in a way that is untainted. that means they will not and should not refer a victim for counselling until after they have given their evidence\”
Never again should that happen. Not only should the complainant\’s recovery be paramount, but it is hack psychology and insulting to jurors. There is a risk that counselling notes be disclosed but judges determine that and are getting clearer that they are rarely of relevance. Frances Andrade not untypically, knew that she was going to give evidence for about two years and \’was left to cope alone\’ as her son told the Coroner
Mr Andrade said that his wife was \’utterly traumatised\’ by the experience of giving evidence and felt that the barrister cross examining was attacking her personally. She told her friend that she felt as though she had been raped again in court. The defendant said that she was a fantasist,\’largely living a fantasy life\’ and presumably that was suggested to her in evidence. In 2013 the Bar Council resolved to \”encourage\’ the development of training for cross examination and the judge in this case said that the defence barrister \’was perfectly proper and correct in her examination of all the witnesses\’
But although excellent work has been done by the Criminal Bar Association and others especially through the Advocates\’ Gateway, which promotes \’toolkits\’ for cross examining, especially for children in sex cases, the Serious Case Review, lead by Professor Hilary Brown called for criminal justice professionals better to recognise the vulnerability of survivors when facing their accusers in court. There is no option but to treat a complainant as a true complainant in this way and it ought to have been self-evident to the judge and the barrister, who clearly did not treat her as vulnerable, that:
\’Historic abuse is always a present source of difficulty and distress to those who have been victimised\’ as the SCR reiterated. Victims statements used by the court which sentenced Rolf Harris gave some flavour of the impact. Victims lives were ruined, one victim turned to drink to blank out the memories and clearly Ms Andrade faced difficulties testifying in a case she had not inititated but which must have brought horrible memories back to life
She told her family that she felt she was not prepared enough for the trial, not expecting to be attacked or to have to answer so many direct questions, in public. She is quoted saying
\’I can see why nobody comes forward. I can see how people crack under the pressure\’
Most Police, at some stage, are trained to give evidence. Expert witnesses learn how to testify and deal with cross examination. The defendant in a trial prepares his evidence in detail, including rehearsals with his defence team. There is no criticism of an exercise in presenting the best of what they lawyers are told is a true case. The only person who doesn\’t know what to expect and isnt trained to cope is the victim/complainant. They get \’familiarisation training\’ subject to strict rules laid down by the Court of Appeal to avoid any influence on their evidence. They are told which is the judge and where the jury sits and a little bit more. Alison Saunders, the new DPP seems to get the point that that isn\’t enough. Why should complainants not be told what the defence is? Why should they be left to find out on the hoof that a barrister might suggest that they are a fantasist. Even more strongly should they know that, in a sexual abuse case, they are likely to be asked, as Ms Andrade obviously was, in excruciating detail about intimate events to see whether a dot or a comma has changed in their account since they gave a police statement.
Police forces across the country are working hard to improve the service they give to victims.The CPS has specialists for these cases. The judges are currently getting training about vulnerable witnesses. They will ensure that the protection for a victim and fairness to a defendant do not undermine one another. Everyone understands that the defendant is on trial for grave crime, facing ruin and worse and that he must get fairness. What is needed is a victims\’ eye view put into the middle of this which shakes them all out of the legal mindset and helps us all to understand the service to the public that the criminal justice process is intended to be. it did not serve Frances Andrade well.
Here in Northumbria we will be appointing Court Observers. The role of the panel will be collating and publishing their observations of how the cases are tried to see how well the courts are working to improve the trial of sexual offences. This will include considering whether a victim is provided with appropriate support in court and the use of myths and stereotypes about rape and abuse rather than focusing on facts.
To complement the work of the panel we will also be establishing a Police Rape Scrutiny Panel. This panel will scrutinise case files which have failed to attain the requisite evidential level of prosecution or where a prosecution has failed and look for lessons to learn. I hope these actions will be seen as a success and implemented by other Police & Crime Commissioners. Between us we can ensure that lesson are learnt from Frances case and her memory lives on in ensuring others get the right support first time.
Follow Vera Baird QC on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@northumbriapcc