Chief Justice Kawaley *File photo
Chief Justice Kawaley *File photo

Judges must be aware of the ‘softer skills’ needed in court when dealing with child sex abuse victims, according to the Chief Justice.

Ian Kawaley’s comments come as he looks to establish a set of sentencing guidelines for child abuse cases to tackle the public perception there is inconsistency in the process.

Mr Kawaley told the Sun the sentencing principles would initially be laid down at Magistrate’s Court.

And he would not rule out the possibility of ‘specialized training’ for judges to improve their understanding of the issues underlying child sex abuse.

He added: “What the courts need to do is increase their capacity to deal with child sex abuse cases in a way that reflects a greater understanding of what the problem is, in particularly from the child’s perspective.

“An area I have under consideration is that of sentencing guidelines.

“There has been a perception that the sentencing process has been inconsistent and the absence of a published articulation of what principles should govern sentencing involving child sex abuse cases contributes to that.

“The guidelines would explain in fairly layman’s terms the relevant considerations that sentencing judges have to take into account with dealing with these kind of cases.

“And they would involve pulling together into one place a number of disparate strands of principle as well as judicial precedent that at the moment can not be easily identified.

“These guidelines would serve two purposes — an aid to sentencing judges to ensure they are actually dealing objectively with an objective criteria as opposed to responding to the idiosyncrasies of a particular case.

“And the other point is having something that the public could have access to understand what are the principles lie behind the sentence.”

The Chief Justice told the Sun: “Beyond the technical aspect of facilitating children giving evidence the courts also have to look at the softer skills of how children witnesses are dealt with in court by a judge.

“Quite often there is an immediate knee jerk public reaction because the sentence was perceived to be lenient.

“The majority of cases are upheld on appeal and the public’s perception is not vindicated in terms of something seriously going  wrong.”

Mr Kawaley joined other members of the legal profession at a child sex abuse awareness programme last weekend run by the charity SCARS.

The ‘Darkness to Light Stewards of Children’ sessions aim to raise awareness of child sex abuse as well as promote the healing of those affected by it.

He said: “It is very important not to be reliant on one’s own personal uneducated assumption of what the problems are and understand the symptoms and other types of behaviours a victim might show when he or she has experienced abuse.

“This kind of training is very important to stimulate real action as opposed to empty sermonizing.”