When summing up any case to a jury, one of the first things a judge has to explain is that although it is for the jury to decide the facts of the case, they must follow the judge’s directions of law. A favourite cliché of many is then to say “if I am wrong on the law a higher court will put it right.”
“Phew,” the jurors are meant to think, “we can trust that even if this old fool has got the law wrong, no harm will come of it because that ‘higher court’ will make everything right again.”
Victor Nealon and Sam Hallam learnt last week from the Supreme Court what they must have guessed already: the promise that a higher court will put wrongful convictions right is hollow. And although there is statutory provision for the state to atone with compensation for subjecting innocent people to wrongful convictions and imprisonment, it is worded in such a way that compensation can virtually never be paid. It is a bogus, Potemkin provision of no practical effect.
Germaine Greer’s On Rape is roughly the size and thickness of a Beatrix Potter, and why not? The Tale of Jemima Puddleduck may not be the last word on rape, but it says a great deal of what young people need to know: beware of polite, well-dressed gentlemen, especially if they have foxy whiskers and black prick ears. Don’t go uncritically into dismal summer-houses in the woods; and accepting a dinner invitation does not imply consent to everything the polite gentlemen is looking for.
Ms Greer’s book is not as incisive as Miss Potter’s and at £12.99 it is considerably more expensive but that is not to say it is a complete waste of money. In some ways it fizzes along with ideas and raises lots of questions that others are frightened to ask. Why are we so afraid of the penis when a fist and a thumb can do more physical damage? Why do some women fantasise about being raped? Are sentences for rapists too long? Should rapists be compulsorily castrated? That it is less good at answering them is not necessarily a criticism. Indeed, as she says (of her proposal that rape sentences should be shorter) “the mere suggestion will cause an outcry which is one good reason for making it.” Continue reading “Germaine Greer on Rape: A review”
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”
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.”
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”
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,
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:
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”
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”