Starting from November 2018, the Public Prosecution commenced a system for receiving judicial delegation from public prosecutors in cases referred by the Family Protection Department involving child abuse testimony hearings using modern CCTV technology.
The activation of this new measure comes in line with Article 92 of The Criminal Procedures Law which stipulates that “The public prosecutor has the right to delegate one of the conciliation court judges or another public prosecutor who is working in his/her area of jurisdiction to conduct one of the investigation’s procedures in the areas which fall within the jurisdiction of the delegated judge. He/she also has the right to delegate one of the judicial police officials to conduct any investigation procedure except the interrogation of the defendant”. The law also states that “The delegated judge or judicial police officer shall assume the functions of the public prosecutor in relation to the acts defined in the delegation memo.”
The activation of this technique aims to spare child victims the burden of coming to the public prosecutor’s office to give their testimonies and settles for video-recording their testimonies by the delegated prosecutor from the Family Protection Department’s officers in the department itself to be later on used by the public prosecutor. The use of this procedure falls in the best interests of child victims and spares them the burden of re-testifying and retelling the details of the attack.
During a conference organized by the Public Security Directorate and NCFA titled “The best interests of the child principle/ The right of the child to protection against violence”, the Public Prosecutor in the Grand Criminal Court Judge Ashraf Al-Abdullah said: “When reviewing crime cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the grand criminal court, the majority of victims in sexual abuse cases turn out to be children, and hence the urgent need to assign an ad hoc judicial body to trial child sexual abuse cases which will be in the best interest of the child as it gives weight to such cases and confines the case within one judicial body to spare the child the burden of appearing before several bodies.”
In the same context, Al-Abdullah added that “in 2005, the court initiated the use of the CCTV (Closed-Circuit TV) technology to hear child testimonies as victims in sexual abuse cases. However, courts did not use this technology on a regular basis due to technical problems and other issues related to the availability of qualified human resources to use this technology”.
“As of 2011, a special judicial court was assigned to hear child cases with a room on the opposite side equipped with CCTV technology where the child’s or other people’s testimonies will be heard and seen by the ruling judge, public prosecutor, the accused or the defense lawyer via video; the technology was designed so that no one else in the court room can see the child except for the ruling judge who can allow the child to see a particular person, if s/he deems necessary”, continued Al-Abdullah.
With regard to the figures pertinent to this kind of child abuse cases where the new technology was applied, Al-Abdullah indicated that in 2016 the number reached 332 cases (sexual molestation, rape and abduction) and in 2017 the number was 278, while the number reached 319 cases up to October 2018.
Al-Abdullah concluded that around 300 cases of children victims of sexual abuse appear before the grand criminal court annually in addition to other child witnesses. “These figures indicate that these children are compelled to appear in public prosecutor offices across the Kingdom in addition to appearing before the grand court”, added Al-Abdullah highlighting the recent amendment to Article 158 of The Criminal Procedures Law for the year 2017 which was “in realization of the best interests of the child by compelling the courts to listen to children victims of sexual assaults through the use of the new technology unless otherwise impossible.”
However, Al-Abdullah noted that to this moment the public prosecutor offices including the grand criminal court are not yet equipped with the new technology for listening to child victims, and because of this, the Grand Criminal Court in cooperation with NCFA, UNHCR and the Family Protection Department have activated the system of judicial delegation contained in Article 92 of the “The Criminal Procedures Law”. As such, officers from the Family Protection Department were trained to receive judicial delegations from public prosecutors for the purpose of hearing children victims of sexual assaults at the public prosecution offices using the new technology. The new technology has been in implementation since last month.
The Grand Criminal Court’s experience with the CCTV technology “has achieved positive outcomes in the realization of the best interests of the child although some loopholes remain; the child still needs to come to the court house and on many occasions enters the same room where the assailant sits in while passing through to the CCTV room which has a grave impact on the child, particularly as this court tries very dangerous crimes such as murder”, Al-Abdullah commented.
He also mentioned other flaws in the new technology including “the occasional breakdown of the CCTV system whereby the court is forced to hear the child’s testimony in the traditional way, and the fact that the Grand Court’s Public Prosecutor Department is not equipped with this technology meaning that the child has to show up at the department”.
All these issues, as Al-Abdullah believes, can be solved through the use of technology where the child’s testimony is heard at the Public Prosecution or before the court by using a Closed-Circuit TV system.
On his part, Head of the Family Protection Department Colonel Fakhri Al-Qatarneh said that the main purpose of using the televised interrogation with children is “to spare the child the burden of repeating the events of the assault again and again before a lot of people or entities and to make it easier for the children and parents by simplifying the somewhat complex procedures to be in the best interests of the child.”
Al-Qatarneh explained that the televised interview “has many advantages compared to written statements; they are directly taken from the child and are close to the time of the assault or the reporting of the assault whereby the child can give detailed account of the incident. They also offer a more sequential, logical, objective and comprehensive picture of the case as it contains the necessary information regarding the child’s family and environment as well as the incident and its surrounding circumstances.”
“This technology allows us to assess the truthfulness of the child through his/her words and expressions and by monitoring his/her reactions and gestures during the interview and would therefore give viewers a clear picture of the circumstances surrounding the child during the interview and consequently confirms or denies the possibility of being coerced, pressured or directed”, he added.
As Al-Qatarneh pointed out, the recording is a convenient way to retrieve information as it allows us to watch the interview more than once and at any time without forgetting any piece of information which no other method can offer, emphasizing that other concerned parties can make use of the recording for medical or counseling purposes including for example forensic doctors, psychologists or social services.