Sometimes you read an article and have to re-read it because you can't absorb the information as fact first time round. This happened to me a few days ago.
In Scotland victims of child sex abuse are given access to supposedly confidential counselling under a system put in place to protect vulnerable witnesses. Tam Baillie, Scotland's Children's Commissioner, has demanded a review of laws designed to protect these children from what he called 'the unintended consequences of well-intentioned legislation'.
Why is Mr Baillie, writing in the specialist journal Scottish Family Law Association Bulletin, demanding a review? Because the victims of child sex abuse are being traumatised by courts forcing therapists to reveal their clients' secrets to abusers. Mr Baillie warned that notes from confidential counselling sessions were being used in criminal cases against the wishes - and interests - of children and young people. He said he was aware of cases where both defence agents and prosecuters were using confidential counselling notes in court.
Crown Office guidance is that fiscals should not routinely use evidence from counselling. However, the Crown recognises defence teams may wish to do so, especially if they are arguing a child has been “coached” to complain of abuse. - The Herald
He accepts new evidence brought up in therapy should be shared with the authorities, but he objected at the prospect of intimate feelings - including those expressed using art therapy - being made public. He wants to see rules changed so that notes can only be revealed with the permission of the children and has argued this could be done by amending the Vulnerable Witnesses Act of 2004.
It's understood the Cross-Party Group on the Survivors of Child Sex Abuse raised the issue with Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill last year after being alerted to it by Barnardo's. A spokeswoman for the group said:
"... The need to avoid further damage to abused children is fundamental - the trust and confidentiality between the child and therapist must be seen as integral to their recovery."
Many people have counselling for a range of reasons. Some pay privately and some are referred through the NHS. Would anyone be happy to know their deeply personal thoughts and feelings could be used in a court case, and more importantly by both defence and prosecutors, without their knowledge or consent?
These children will most probably be told what they say to their therapist is just between the two of them, to establish a trusting relationship. In all innocence they will believe the adult(s) and, in the case of sex or other abuse, they may be relieved to tell someone who promises 'not to tell anyone'.
Mr MacAskill ought to get this legislation amended with immediate effect so as these young people are protected. He managed to rush through, in a matter of days, legislation regarding the voting rights of those convicted of crime, so it can be done speedily. Allowing such a loophole - through legal guidance notes - makes a mockery of our declaration that we care for children. Maybe some children but certainly not all. We need to protect each and every one to the best of our ability and we expect our justice system to do that. So much is said about the Human Rights Act, which I consider requires a root and branch review. Where are all those who wave the HRA card in judicial cases? If ever a person's rights were being dismissed or ignored, this is it.