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Recent years have seen a growing number of criminal prosecutions for sexual offences against children which are alleged to have occurred many years before the time of prosecution. This is a relatively new phenomenon within the criminal justice system.
This book examines the response of the criminal justice systems of common law jurisdictions to such challenging cases, and explores how the system should respond in order to ensure that the defendant receives a fair trial, whilst recognizing the reasons why complainants may delay reporting abuse for many years.
The book begins with a discussion of the psychological effects of childhood sexual abuse in order to shed light on the reasons why a victim might delay in making a complaint. Two central categories of delay are introduced: those in which the victim always remembered the abuse but was unable to complain; and those in which the victim's memory of the abuse was allegedly lost and later recovered. The debate over whether long-delayed criminal prosecutions should be brought, and the particular concerns raised by delayed childhood sexual abuse cases, are reviewed. Statutory and constitutional limits on the bringing of such cases are canvassed. The common law remedies of abuse of process and prohibition, which can ensure that unfair or oppressive prosecutions do not proceed, are examined.
The focus then turns to the trial of delayed childhood sexual abuse allegations, considering the use which can be made by the prosecution and defence of evidence of complaint and delay in complaint, and the methods by which the jury can be informed of the reasons why complainants may delay. The role of warnings to the jury about the absence of corroboration and the forensic disadvantage or prejudice which the defendant may have suffered as a result of the complainant's delay in coming forward is scrutinized. Particular problems raised in cases involving recovered memories, and those involving multiple allegations are analysed. Finally, retrospective assessment of trial fairness and the safety of convictions is considered.
The book is multi-jurisdictional in scope, focussing on those common law jurisdictions which have experienced a large number of such prosecutions: England and Wales; Ireland; Canada; Australia; New Zealand and the United States.