Saturday, 25 September 2010

Dangerous Assumptions…

Joseph Harker on a rape trial:
In March last year in a south London court I was selected as one of the 12 to hear a sexual assault trial. The hearing began with the alleged victim recalling how she was out celebrating a birthday in a pub, with friends – and how a couple of them, including her boyfriend, left for home along with another man they'd got chatting to.
So far, so normal…
She'd had plenty to drink and she'd taken some soft drugs. But after falling asleep in her bedroom she woke up to find a man trying to force himself on her.
We were told that the alleged attacker's defence was that he'd never met her – that it was a case of mistaken identity.
So, no forensics, then?
She said she knew it was him because he was a well-known character in the area, and was widely known to dress in a particular way.
Plus, she’d met up with him just hours earlier. And so had others.

We'd been told that the alleged victim was the only witness who'd be called. Which was bizarre, given that there were two or three other people who would surely have been able to identify whether the defendant really was the man they'd walked home with.
Unless they weren’t sure, being drunk and stoned as well? Or unless they didn’t agree with the witness that it was ‘Mr X’…
Then the case took another twist: when the victim was asked why she had not brought the case earlier (it was now three years since the night in question) she replied that she'd been scared to make the assault claim because he knew where she lived. She added that she only felt safe to report the attack when she'd heard he was in prison.
At this point the judge and barristers went into a huddle, and we were told to ignore that last remark. I realised this was a serious development: surprisingly, though, the case continued until the end of the afternoon.
There’s no flies on you, Joseph…
The following morning we were called back into the courtroom to be told that the prison comment meant the judge would have to discharge us. But we were also told that the prosecution had decided to drop the charges.
I’m surprised they went ahead with it in the first place!
Even at the time I was shocked that a case involving such serious charges could be handled so badly. It felt as if the efforts to gather evidence were completely slapdash. I knew of the pitifully low conviction rates for rape, and I remember thinking that if this is how they are all prosecuted, I could fully understand why.
No, more a case of ‘if this is how slim they are, with lack of evidence and shaky/missing witnesses’ it’s a miracle any of them succeed…
Hearing now that the victim felt "bullied and railroaded" by the barristers and the investigating detective into giving evidence without adequate preparation; that she'd expected to be shielded from her alleged attacker while in the witness box; and how she'd been "put through hell" when they dropped the case – without consulting her – the whole thing seems even more deplorable.
Oh, please!

If that was what the alleged victim expected, then she had a completely unrealistic view of what a rape trial was all about, and someone at the CPS or any of the many support charities should have put her straight!
"The Crown Prosecution Service allowed me, a vulnerable witness, to be crucified in open court in front of my assailant," she said. "The psychological and emotional damage was catastrophic: I slipped into major depression and felt suicidal."
Suck it up, sweetie. That’s the system. The only people who get to be shielded from the view of the court are children. Are you a child, or a grown woman?
A huge amount has been written about the handling of rape allegations, and the need to improve the methods of evidence-gathering and prosecution, so cases like this simply shouldn't happen. Even more disturbing, specialist prosecutors – supposed experts in the field – were used on the case.
Which, perhaps, goes to show that no matter how good, even they can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear?

And that the politically-correct ‘tick box’ approach to rape cases – where prosecution forges ahead no matter how dubious the situation - is actually hindering the pursuit of justice?
And after last week's disclosure that an inquiry into police handling of rape cases has been shelved as part of the coalition government's cuts, it seems the outcome will now be more incompetence, more women victims being humiliated in court, and more rapists going free.
Alleged rapists, FFS! Good god, if even a ‘Guardian’ columnist can’t keep that fact in his head – that merely being accused isn’t evidence of guilt - why expect anyone else?

Mind you, we are talking about the man for whom lack of a multiracial Mother’s Day card option is proof of ‘institutional racism’…

1 comment:

Greencoat said...

Yeah - and how come you never see a picture of a black fairy?

And before you say it, Archbishop Tutu doesn't count!