Rape juries: Jolyon Maugham hits the wrong target

Last month Britain’s favourite tax barrister, Jolyon Maugham QC, suggested in an article in the New Statesman that juries ought to be abolished for rape trials. I had meant to reply to him much earlier, but did not have the time to do so until now.

As he is in some ways a stickler for accuracy I should quote him:

These few hundred words are not the place to remake the system by which rape is deterred. But we might start by asking, as Julie Bindel has urged, whether trial by jury serves the public interest in rape cases.”

I don’t think he is quite advocating the abolition of juries for rape cases, but he is certainly suggesting that it is something that should be discussed. Indeed, trial by jury, he says, is the place to start.

He was immediately criticised by some criminal lawyers for stepping outside his area of expertise. Not by me though; not least because my limited expertise as a criminal lawyer has never stopped me offering my thoughts on any number of other subjects, some of which are only vaguely related to the law (I can’t help you with tax avoidance though). Mr Maugham’s insights into what is undoubtedly a thorny area should be entirely welcome. Continue reading “Rape juries: Jolyon Maugham hits the wrong target”

Wrongful convictions are a terrible risk in our frighteningly imperfect justicesystem.

There is a somewhat distasteful expression that prosecuting barristers occasionally use after a jury has convicted: “I potted him,” they will say to anyone who happens to be listening, usually with a faintly repellent smugness.

There is more to prosecuting than potting a defendant as though he were a celluloid ball, important public service though that can often be. Prosecutors also have a critical role in protecting the innocent. A good prosecutor should never take an unfair point, should never try to adduce clearly inadmissible evidence and above all should always disclose evidence that undermines their own case or supports that of the defence. The police too are under a duty to follow all reasonable lines of inquiry and to reveal what they discover to the prosecutor even if it undermines a case they thought they were building against a guilty man. Continue reading “Wrongful convictions are a terrible risk in our frighteningly imperfect justicesystem.”

The Parole Board may have got it wrong but it should not be intimidated out of making unpopular decisions

It is not surprising that the decision of the Parole Board to release the black-cab rapist John Worboys has sparked near universal outrage. The trial judge had passed a sentence of imprisonment for public protection (“IPP”), with a minimum term of 8 years imprisonment. That means that he could not be released until he had served at least 8 years, and thereafter could only be released if the Parole Board judged him “safe.” Once you take into account time served before his trial he has actually been in prison for over 9 years, the equivalent of a determinate sentence of at least 18 years imprisonment, significantly longer than the trial judge considered necessary for purely punitive purposes. Continue reading “The Parole Board may have got it wrong but it should not be intimidated out of making unpopular decisions”

Liam Allan’s case shows why our criminal justice system is becoming a matter of national shame

Another day brings another terrifying near miscarriage of justice.

Liam Allan, a 22 year old criminology student, was yesterday cleared at Croydon Crown Court of a string of rapes against a woman who claimed that she “did not enjoy sex.” Mr Allan had always maintained that she had consented, and that her complaint was malicious.

The case collapsed after three days  when  analysis of the complainant’s mobile phone was finally revealed to the persistent prosecution barrister, former Tory MP (and now incidentally the renowned legal blogger) Jerry Hayes. It showed that amongst the 50,000 or so messages sent by the complainant (or to use the official term approved by the College of Policing, “the victim”) were messages to Mr Allan pestering him for sex, and fantasising about “rough sex and being raped.” Mr Hayes, a member of the independent bar rather than an employee of the Crown Prosecution Service,

Jerry Hayes: old school prosecutor averted miscarriage of justice

saw immediately that the messages destroyed the prosecution case, and invited the judge to find Mr Allan Not Guilty. The judge did so, and has called for an inquiry into why the messages were not disclosed earlier. Continue reading “Liam Allan’s case shows why our criminal justice system is becoming a matter of national shame”

Are 75% of rape complainants cross-examined about their sexual history?

There was a striking headline in today’s Times:

Sexual history of rape victims still being put on trial

Many people will not have a Times Subscription, so if they saw the story at all online they would have seen only the headline, a picture of Ched Evans, and the first sentence of the story which asserted:

Victims of alleged rape or sexual assault are questioned about their sexual history at trial in nearly three out of four cases, a survey shows.

Those able to read the full story would have read that:

Only one in four alleged victims did not have to face such examination.” Continue reading “Are 75% of rape complainants cross-examined about their sexual history?”

Ian Watkins and Jemma Beale: both cases should make us uncomfortable about our justice system

There were two disturbing pieces of news last week.

The Independent Police Complaints Commission produced a report on the handling by South Wales Police of complaints against the Lost Prophets singer Ian Watkins. In a nutshell, the IPCC found that over the course of several years the police failed to take complaints and intelligence about Mr Watkins’s seriously. As a result this most unpleasant and dangerous of paedophiles was able to continue his practice of filming, drugging and raping very young children when he could and should have been stopped.

The other news was about a woman called Jemma Beale who was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for perjury and perverting the course of justice. Ms Beale had falsely claimed to have been raped by a man called Mahad Cassim. He was duly prosecuted, convicted and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment, while Ms Beale collected £11,000 from the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority. She then went on to make false accusations about 14 other men, one of whom fled the country after being charged with participation in a gang rape that never happened. Continue reading “Ian Watkins and Jemma Beale: both cases should make us uncomfortable about our justice system”

Harriet Harman’s proposed ban on sexual history evidence would be grotesquely unfair

Over the last few years there have been a number of powerful nominations for the title of stupidest Parliamentarian. This blog has in the past made what I thought was a powerful case for the prize to be jointly shared between Messrs Peter Bone and Phillip Hollobone, and the Secret Barrister has repeatedly and persuasively argued the case for Phillip Davies, and indeed may do so again at greater length in his eagerly awaited book. Just to prove that Conservatives do not have a stranglehold on the competition along comes Harriet Harman with a legislative proposal which is guaranteed to produce injustice and, for good measure, is virtually certain to be ruled incompatible with the Article 6 right to a fair trial under the European Convention on Human Rights. Continue reading “Harriet Harman’s proposed ban on sexual history evidence would be grotesquely unfair”

Judge Lower was right not to lift the Sexual RIsk Order on John O’Neill

We must wait until 22nd September to discover exactly what District Judge Adrian Lower has in mind for John O’Neill, the York man who, despite having been acquitted of a charge of rape, is now not allowed to have sex unless he gives the police at least 24 hours notice of his intention.

Mr O’Neill has been subject to a peculiar and, as far as I know, unique interim “Sexual Risk Order” since January. At a hearing yesterday the judge announced that he would be making a final order, although in the same breath he also strongly implied that he would amend its terms, describing the notice provisions as “wholly disproportionate” and “frankly unpoliceable.” Continue reading “Judge Lower was right not to lift the Sexual RIsk Order on John O’Neill”

Should we always prosecute people who make false allegations?

What should happen to people who make false allegations?

The issue has been put into stark focus by the publicity given this week to the case of Geoff Long.

Mr Long had a daughter called Tina from an unsuccessful first marriage. In 2010 she went to Brighton police and claimed that he had systematically abused her over thirty years earlier when she was aged between 8 and 16.

There was apparently no corroboration to her allegation, but it led to Mr Long’s prosecution. The jury believed Tina, and he was convicted. He received a sentence of 5 years imprisonment.

To rub salt into his wounds Tina then gave her story to a magazine, which published it under the headline “34 years on I finally made him face up to his hideous crimes.” Continue reading “Should we always prosecute people who make false allegations?”