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Interpretation of Ano-Genital Findings

Ano-genital findings, namely signs of injury or other non-natural interference, often form part of child abuse prosecutions.

In recent years new research has cast doubt on some old beliefs, and it may be the case that some convictions are unsafe. The most recent authoritative guidance is that provided by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health entitled “An evidence based review of the literature on Physical Signs of Child Sexual Abuse” published in 2008 (“the 2008 RCPCH”).

Some key messages from the text are that:

  • There is a lack of good quality comparative studies in some areas.
  • Reflex anal dilatation can occur in both abused and non-abused children although it may be more frequent in the former.
  • Certain terms should no longer be used including: gaping, laxity, funnelling, twitching and winking.

In S and Others [2012] EWCA Crim 1433 several convictions for child sexual abuse were quashed due to incorrect interpretation of medical evidence.

In the cases of C, S & B no factual issues arose from the new medical evidence which is accepted as correct. Insofar as evidence at trial was significantly inconsistent with it, the evidence at trial is conceded to have been incorrect. In the case certainly of C but possibly also of S and B it is arguable that errors in the medical examination and interpretation arose from incorrect/inadequate practice even by standards of the time.

The Court quashed the convictions in three of the four cases.

Whilst the appeals are of course fact-specific, all practitioners are advised to take a look at this judgment, and perhaps note carefully the experts involved, to see whether any past cases might also be worthy of further scrutiny. We have concerns that a great many cases have been impacted and that people are simply unaware of the issues involved.

Our lawyers continuously monitor medical developments and assess any impact it may have on cases where an injury is alleged (for more information see: https://www.rcpch.ac.uk/key-topics/child-protection/evidence-reviews ).

If you have concerns about the safety of any conviction, do not hesitate to contact our specialist lawyers.

How can we help?

We ensure we keep up to date with any changes in legislation and case law so that we are always best placed to advise you properly. If you would like to discuss any aspect of your case, please contact us on 0161 872 9999 or via [email protected]

[Image credit: “childs eye” by apdk is licensed under CC BY 2.0)