John Toulmin was my friend. He was a man who had many friends. Their vast number did not diminish the depth of friendship enjoyed by each and every one of us. His friends came from all over the world. Friendship with him knew no bounds of distance or nationality or race. Among many institutions and organisations which enjoyed his support, he gave distinguished service to King’s College London. I am indebted to the College, but if I may say so even more to Carolyn Toulmin for doing me the honour of inviting me to give the first lecture in celebration of the memory of a distinguished jurist and a fine man.
I have chosen to use the occasion to offer some reflections on the way in which the approach to the evidence of children, and in particular children who are the victims of crime have changed during the last 50 or so years since John and I were called to the Bar. Children is used broadly, to cover children who are very small and teenagers too – all separate individuals, of course. And perhaps I should add that the focus of this lecture is the child victim of crime, usually sexual crime, but sometimes violent crime and sometimes neglect.
Perhaps I may be allowed to begin by repeating thoughts I have expressed on earlier occasions. Whether you approach the issue from the traditional common law “adverserial” process, or the equally traditional continental “inquisitorial” process (and that is a lecture in itself) justice cannot be done without witnesses. In Deuteronomy there is a passionate call for “heaven and earth to witness against you this day if you did evil in the sight of God”. Heaven and earth now includes all kinds of modern technology, including, for example, CCTV cameras, and DNA profiling, both sources of evidence which were inconceivable in biblical times. And there will be advances in technology which, like the prophet who wrote Deuteronomy, we have not begun to contemplate, but for the present and the immediate future certainly, accurate and honest witnesses are required for justice to be done.
It is not an accident that one of the Ten Commandments prohibits the bearing of false witness. As drafted, it prohibits the false allegation. No one should be criminalised by falsehood.