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3.33 Pre-Trial Therapy


  1. Introduction
  2. Crown Prosecution Service
  3. Therapeutic Services
  4. Pre-trial Planning Meeting
  5. Considerations at the Pre-trial Therapy Meeting
  6. Therapy
  7. Confidentiality not Guaranteed
  8. Problem Resolution

1. Introduction

There may be a conflict between balancing the need for child victims to receive as soon as possible effective treatment to assist their recovery from the abuse they have received whilst at the same time ensuring that the accused person is entitled to a fair trial and that therapy does not jeopardise or compromise that fair trial.

This procedure needs to be read in conjunction with the Practice Guidance: Provision of Therapy for Child Witnesses Prior to a Criminal Trial issued by the Crown Prosecution Service.

In all cases the well-being of the child must be paramount.

One or more assessment interviews should be conducted by an appropriately skilled and trained professional in order to determine whether and in what way the child is emotionally disturbed, and also whether therapy treatment is needed. This could be as part of an assessment undertaken using the Assessment Framework (see The Assessment Framework Guidance.

The decision about the need for therapeutic support (separate from formal court preparation of a child witness) should be considered:

  • Keeping the child's interests paramount;
  • Taking the child's wishes and feelings into account;
  • On a multi-agency basis;
  • In consultation with the child's parent/s or carers and with the child;
  • But at all times taking the potential impact on criminal proceedings into account.

The decision should normally be made following a professional assessment of the child's need for therapy. A formal discussion needs to be had with either Police and/or CPS and may be taken  as part of a Strategy Meeting / discussion or in a Child Protection Conference, or, if the child is not subject to Child Protection processes, in a multi-agency meeting arranged for this purpose.

If there is a demonstrable need for the provision of therapy and it is likely that the therapy will prejudice the criminal proceedings, consideration may need to be given to abandoning those proceedings in the interests of the child's wellbeing. In such cases there will be a need to balance the impact of the child’s emotional well-being of abandoning the proceedings against delaying the therapy. Consideration should be given to whether there is a need for a formal meeting between the child and the Police to explain the decision that has been made.

Alternatively, there may be some children for whom it will be preferable to delay therapy until after the criminal case has been heard, to avoid the benefits of the therapy being undone.

While some forms of therapy may undermine the evidence given by the witness, this will not automatically be the case. Legal advice must be sought on the likely impact on the evidence of the child receiving therapy.

An assessment will be needed to inform a decision on whether a child with special needs (e.g. disabled children and those with learning disabilities, hearing and speech impairments etc) can, with the appropriate assistance, be a competent witness.

Therapeutic support may be sought / offered through a number of routes. Professionals who provide therapeutic support to children must be aware of the guidance Provision of Therapy for Child Witnesses (Home Office / CPS / DoH 2001) and the implications for the criminal process in terms of both disclosure and contamination of evidence.

The initial joint investigative interview with the child, including any visually recorded interview, should be undertaken prior to any new therapeutic work in order that the original disclosure is not undermined.

Where it becomes apparent that a child is already receiving therapeutic support at the point of the criminal investigations and Child Protection enquiries, there must be discussion as to how the work should proceed. The fact that therapeutic work is already underway will not necessarily prevent a case proceeding before a criminal court.

Prosecutors must be made aware of the contents of the therapy sessions when considering whether or not to prosecute and their duties of disclosure to Defendants. The professionals must provide any copies of records / notes / recordings taken during or about the sessions to the prosecution if required.

2. Crown Prosecution Service

The Police should inform the Crown Prosecution Service as soon as therapeutic support is recommended, using a named contact point for the case relating to the child. Direct consultation between the professionals may be advisable in some cases and should be arranged through the police officer responsible for the case.

The Crown Prosecution Service should advise the police of the potential impact of any proposed therapeutic support on criminal proceedings in each individual case.

It is the responsibility of the reviewing Crown Prosecution lawyer to seek confirmation from the police as to:

  • Whether therapeutic work has been undertaken;
  • If so, whether the witness said anything inconsistent with the disclosure to the police;
  • What sort of therapeutic work was undertaken.

3. Therapeutic Services

Professionals who provide therapeutic support to children must have appropriate training according to the level of work to be undertaken, as well as a thorough understanding of the effects of abuse. They must be a member of an appropriate professional body or have other recognised competence. They must also have a good understanding of how the rules of evidence for witnesses in criminal proceedings may require modification of techniques.

4. Pre-trial Planning Meeting

Where it is considered that therapeutic intervention is appropriate and has been commissioned, a pre-trial planning meeting should be convened.

Where LA Children's Social Care is involved with the child, the Team Manager or Area Social Care Manager  should convene and chair the meeting, and arrange for a formal record of it to be made.

Where LA Children's Social Care is not involved, the therapeutic service commissioned to undertake work, or already involved with the child, should convene the meeting.

A formal record of the meeting should be made, and it should be noted that this may be disclosed in criminal proceedings.

Pre-trial planning meetings will involve relevant professionals from LA Children's Social Care, police and the service offering therapeutic work. They may also include:

  • Parents (unless implicated in the alleged abuse);
  • The child, if of sufficient age and understanding;
  • Other relevant professionals.

5. Considerations at the Pre-trial Therapy Meeting

The purpose of the pre-trial meeting is to:

  • Confirm that therapeutic intervention is in the best interests of the child (including taking into account the child's right to justice);
  • Agree the parameters and nature of any proposed therapeutic support, ensuring that the process is subject to regular review;
  • Agree lines of communication between the professional who will undertake the work and other professionals.

In deciding on what therapeutic support is appropriate to pursue pre-trial, the following considerations apply:

  • Therapeutic support is on an individual basis (i.e. no joint or group sessions are normally acceptable because of the increased risk of contamination of evidence);
  • Where joint or group sessions are already in progress, the implications for continuing must be considered, and in addition the particular implications for recording what takes place;
  • Therapeutic support may be subject to challenge at court. Therefore, it is better that only one worker provides the support.

6. Therapy

The professional providing therapeutic support must be able to demonstrate professional competence or a sufficient level of supervision if called in a subsequent trial.

If, during a therapeutic session, a child refers to the abuse they have suffered, the worker should:

  • Listen and acknowledge what has been said;
  • Not seek clarification or ask probing or investigative questions;
  • Record clearly what has been said.

Consider whether there is new or additional allegations or information which require urgent discussion with the police / social worker.

The professional who will provide therapeutic support should be given sufficient information about the nature of the abuse alleged by the child to be able to judge if the child begins to make new or additional allegations within a session.

At all times the importance of not coaching child witnesses or rehearsing them in matters of direct evidential value must be borne in mind by the professional undertaking of therapeutic work with the witness (R v Momodou and Limani (2005) All ER 571).

Care should be taken in the recording of therapeutic sessions (videos, tapes and written records). Immediate, factual, concise and accurate notes must be made for each session, which must be retained in their original format so that they can be produced at a later date if required. Any notes, visual or audio recordings, pictures etc. used during the therapeutic sessions must be similarly maintained.

A pro-forma document will be completed following each session and will include:

  • Date and location of session;
  • Duration of session;
  • Details of the professional undertaking the work with the child;
  • Details of child;
  • Details of other professionals present;
  • Confirmation that records of the therapy sessions have been made.

The pro-forma documents will be copied prior to any criminal trial and the original document forwarded to the Crown Prosecution Service via the police.

7. Confidentiality not Guaranteed

The professional undertaking therapeutic work needs to ensure that parents and any child of sufficient age and understanding are told that records are kept and that confidentiality cannot be guaranteed. They should specifically be informed that records may be disclosed as part of the criminal proceedings.

Any disclosure of new allegations by the child, or any material departure from or inconsistency with the original allegations, should be reported to the detective inspector of the police Child Abuse Investigation Unit (CAIU) (or the senior investigating officer for the case) and to the social worker allocated to the child.

In newly arising allegations, therapy should not usually take place before a witness has provided a statement or, if appropriate, before a video-recorded interview has taken place. A further pre-trial planning meeting will be convened at the earliest opportunity to determine and agree the best course of action in the light of the new information or allegations.

8. Problem Resolution

Any dissatisfaction should be resolved as simply as possible. This would normally be via discussion between the social worker, the professional providing the therapeutic support and the police officer in the criminal case.

Where disputes remain, a further pre-trial planning meeting should be convened with the Crown Prosecution Service, and involving appropriately senior agency representatives.