One of the consequences of the judgment of the Supreme Court that section 1(1) of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1935 is unconstitutional is an increase in the evidential requirements on the prosecution in prosecutions under the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2006. As a result, child victims face the prospect of being subjected to adversarial court procedures that may be damaging to them. It is important that the undesirable impact of these developments is alleviated to the greatest extent possible. Section 16 of the Criminal Evidence Act 1992, as amended, makes provision for the video recording of any evidence given in respect of a sexual offence or an act involving violence by a person under 17 years of age. The relevant subsection was commenced in 1993.
Section 16 also makes provision for the video recording of a statement during an interview with a member of the Garda Síochána, or any other person who is competent for the purpose, made by a person under 14 years, in respect of whom a sexual offence or an offence involving violence is alleged to have been committed. It provides that such a video recording shall be admissible at a trial as evidence, provided the person whose statement was video recorded is available at the trial for cross examination. It is important to remember that proviso. It does not eliminate the issue of cross-examination.
My predecessor as Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform established a committee in 1998 to draw up guidelines for persons involved in video recording interviews by a member of the Garda Síochána with a complainant aged under 14 years of age or with an intellectual disability in relation to a sexual and-or violent offence. This committee subsequently submitted a report in 2003 entitled Good Practice Guidelines with related recommendations. The guidelines cover a number of areas and made a number of recommendations. My Department carried out its own examination of the report and asked the Health Service Executive for its views on the most effective mechanisms to oversee the implementation of the guidelines and associated recommendations, including the issues of how a joint national training programme for people involved might be established. One of our problems with this is that the quality, ethics and training of the people taking the original statement must be of the highest standard, otherwise they will be accused of prompting or coaching the child and the system would be brought into disrepute. The Health Service Executive has confirmed to the Department of Health and Children and my Department that it has established a task group which is working on this, will issue its first report within the next week and will finalise its work on this matter shortly thereafter. I regret the delay in coming forward with this and it is an area where greater urgency could have been shown by all involved.