Falsely accused of rape: Is the justice system biased against men?
was the headline carried by an article in the Sunday Times magazine on April 15. It presented shocking accounts of a number of high profile rape trials in the UK which collapsed when last minute evidence emerged—often electronic from phone or computer records —which demolished the case made by the complainants. In some cases the evidence had been withheld from the defence teams by police and CPS ( Crown Prosecution Service) until the last moment.
In rape cases police and prosecutors are expected to disclose evidence which could assist the defence or undermine the prosecution but this evidence is not being shared enough or only at the eleventh hour according to the author Katie Glass. Such failures may not be simply due to police incompetence but may signal something more sinister: “an unconscious bias by the CPS in cases of sexual assault”. This was the view of one barrister who added that prosecutors are under great pressure to increase conviction rates.
I feel like the whole episode has been the worst example of toxic feminism
The accounts of the accused make for harrowing reading. In several cases, requests from defence lawyers for CCTV footage were ignored or cherry-picked when it did arrive. Text messages supporting the defence case did not come to light until the last minute or were heavily redacted. One young man who worked in Parliament spent 14 months in the full glare of the tabloid press. In his case the tabloid press was tipped off by the complainant hours after the alleged assault. He spoke about the impact it has had on his life: “there is an image of me that has been scarred into the public psyche”.
Another man, falsely accused, who spent three months in prison on remand after being refused bail, spoke about the hostile attitude of certain police officers. “I feel like the whole episode has been the worst example of toxic feminism”. In his case the text messages which finally undermined the accuser’s evidence were accessed by a friend.
All of the men were publicly vilified only to have their cases quashed. Whatever happened to the principle of innocent until proven guilty?
All of this has occurred in a period when the Head of the CPS is Alison Saunders, a controversial figure who promoted a focus on female victims. Saunders made headline news in Oct 2017 when the CPS reported that the rape figures for 2016 were more than double the true figure. The deception only came to light when a letter from the UK Stats Office pointed out the real figure.
The practice in the UK is that those accused of sexual assault crimes are named but the accusers remain anonymous. Last January after these and other trials collapsed, the CPS announced that every rape and serious sexual assault case in the country was under urgent review. In early April Saunders announced she would step down in October when her 5-year term with the CPS ended.
Angela Rafferty QC, chairwoman of the Criminal Bar Association, warned that the police and CPS may show unconscious bias in cases of sexual assault. She worried about another practice increasingly evident here: “sexual offence cases where the complainant is labelled victim before a trial has even started; Miscarriages of justice will occur if this isnt fixed quickly”. Another barrister spoke of the emotional charge surrounding sexual assault cases and referred to the “repeated myth that the conviction rate in reported rape cases is only 6%. In fact once rape cases reach court nearly 60% result in conviction”. She added that the police now seem to take on board unchallenged a complainant’s account.
The police and CPS may show unconscious bias in cases of sexual assault.
Yet calls have been made here to radically change the procedure in trials where rape or sexual assault is alleged. A report prepared by an “expert group”, convened by Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), calls for the pre-recorded evidence and cross-examination of vulnerable witnesses to be allowed on a much more widespread basis.
It points to what it says are “outdated statutory provisions and rules of evidence, as well as accepted custom and practice” which “have not been adapted to any great extent to take account of the specific needs of individual vulnerable witnesses”.
“In many countries, it is normal to have victims of sexual crime give evidence by pre-recorded statement, by video link, or both, from outside court and in some, the practice is to pre-record the witness’s testimony and play the video in court, instead of obliging the victim to give live evidence”, the report says.
Note the use of language above. It refers to the “victim” or “victims of sexual crime” several times as though the case was already proven beyond reasonable doubt. There is also the notion that certain procedures are old fashioned: “outdated provisions and rules of evidence” and requiring the witness to be present in court.
The intention is clear: It is to abandon the tried and tested procedure of due process and abolish the fundamental principle of our law that an accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty. The abolition of this fundamental principle would have momentous consequences. If it is abolished what is to stop unscrupulous people from making false accusations knowing that there would be no rigorous cross-examination of their evidence?