England: Children’s commissioner calls for lower standard of proof in sexual abuse cases



England’s children’s commissioner has called for the burden of proof in child sexual abuse cases to be lowered because the system as it stands in “not fit for purpose”.

Anne Longfield’s suggestion comes after a ruling in the family court that 13-month-old Poppi Worthington was, on a balance of probabilities, sexually assaulted by her father, Paul Worthington, 48, before she died in 2012.

Mr Worthington has denied harming his daughter and did not face criminal charges because of police failures during the first investigation and after the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) said there was a lack of evidence from a second inquiry by police to prove his guilty beyond reasonable doubt – the criminal standard of proof.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Ms Longfield said: “What this case really sharply illustrates is the difficulty there is in giving evidence in the case of child sex abuse, especially within the family.

“We know that the vast majority of cases aren’t reported in the first place, but even those that are reported, the vast majority don’t go to court because the evidence just isn’t there.

“And when looking at the burden of beyond reasonable doubt, it’s very sharply in contrast to the kind of ruling we saw from the judge last week, which is about balance of probability.”

She added: “We need to understand that if we are serious about tackling child sexual abuse, we need to better decide what does constitute good evidence and that’s something not for me, for the police; it’s for social services, it’s for the judiciary.

“It doesn’t mean a wholesale move over to a ruling by a judge and wholesale embracement of probability but it does mean we need to look at improving a system that isn’t fit for purpose for those that are experiencing sexual abuse.”

Mr Justice Peter Jackson found Mr Worthington had abused Poppi hours before she died. The CPS announced it would re-examine the evidence in the case following an uproar after the ruling.