Compliance with Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) guidelines

Compliance with Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) guidelines

Family analysis: Maud Davis, partner at TV Edwards LLP looks at the issues raised by the case of Re W; Re F (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 1300 where the court described breaches that resulted in two of the Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interviews with the children falling ‘woefully short’ of the requirements set out in the guidance.

Original news

Re W; Re F (Children) [2015] EWCA Civ 1300, [2016] All ER (D) 59 (Jan)

The Court of Appeal, Civil Division, in allowing the appellant’s appeal against findings made in the course of care proceedings that he had sexually abused three children, held that no court could have reasonably found that he had abused any of those children on the basis of the evidence adduced before the recorder.

What were the evidential problems in this case?

The evidential problems fall into three categories. Firstly, ‘wholesale and serious’ breaches of the 2011 ‘Achieving Best Evidence in Criminal Proceedings—Guidance on interviewing victims and witnesses, and guidance on using special measures’ (the guidance). These breaches resulted in two of the Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) interviews with the children falling ‘woefully short’ of the requirements set out in the guidance. Baker J refers to the interviewing officer asking ‘blatantly leading’ questions when introducing the topic of the allegations, then continuing to lead the child by referring to what had been said in earlier conversations; and to other examples of leading questions that ‘littered both interviews’.

Allied to that, the evidence of the oldest child, M, was challenged, partly because of the failure to comply with the guidance in interviewing him. It was submitted, on behalf of the appellant, that a number of other explanations for the children’s sexual knowledge and behaviour were possible, and M’s account could not be relied upon.

The second evidential problem was the failure of police officers and social workers to take adequate notes of conversations with the children, for instance when two of the children were visited at school as part of an

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