How much should sentencing judges rely on a victim’s assessment of the harm they have suffered in a crime?
The issue was highlighted earlier this week when 27 year old Pavel Grushin arrived at Croydon Magistrates Court expecting to be sentenced for offences of sexual assault and common assault he committed at a party in the Royal Festival Hall last December. He was not legally represented, possibly thinking to himself “why bother with a solicitor” when the sentencing guideline suggested a community order, or at worst a short, and very probably suspended, prison sentence.
But District Judge Julie Cooper did not sentence him. Instead she sent the case to the Crown Court where he faces a theoretical maximum sentence of 7 years and a probable sentence of around two and a half years imprisonment. “I suggest you instruct a solicitor” she told Mr Grushin, “you will need it.”
In itself there is nothing especially unusual about that. Thousands of cases are sent from the Magistrates Court to the Crown Court for sentence every year. Your attitude might well be, so what? He’s just another drunken letch who thoroughly deserves to be locked up for as long as possible. Why should we care?
The answer is that if you want sentencing to be carried out fairly and dispassionately over-reliance on Victim Personal Statements (sometimes called “Victim Impact Statements”) has the potential to cause serious injustice.
These statements, setting out the effect that a crime has had on its victim, have become ever more ubiquitous at sentencing hearings over the last twenty or so years. They are sometimes drafted by the victim, perhaps more often by a police officer in consultation with the victim. Sometimes they can be very moving documents. Sometimes they can seem formulaic and predictable, although of course no-one would ever dream of saying so. Often they are out of date or so sparse as to be inconsequential. Occasionally they can be startling and unexpected as when the bereaved relative of someone killed by a driver pleads for a lenient sentence. Continue reading “We need to think again about the effect of Victim Personal Statements on sentencing”
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 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?”
The disc jockey Neil Fox was yesterday acquitted of ten charges of indecent and sexual assault against women and girls. The accusation was that he had committed the offences between 1988 and 2014.
As these things go, the allegations were not particularly serious. They involved unwanted “French” kissing, bottom and breast grabbing and the allegation that Mr Fox had put his hand up various skirts. The worst was perhaps an allegation that he had engaged in sexual activity with a 15 year old girl.
One of the more unusual aspects of the case is that Mr Fox chose to be tried in the Magistrates Court rather than in the Crown Court. This meant that the verdict would not be decided by a jury, but by a bench of magistrates or a (professional and legally qualified) District Judge. In fact, as things turned out he was tried by the Chief District Judge, Howard Riddle and a pair of lay magistrates. This is the Magistrates Court equivalent of a seven judge Court of Appeal. It is very unusual.
Continue reading “Neil Fox’s character has not been vindicated, it has been assassinated”