by Sam Fowles
There are many things the CPS does wrong; the test to prosecute sexual assaults is not one of them. MPs should stop playing politics with prosecutions and take a look at “acceptable behaviour” in the Palace of Westminster.
In my final year at St Andrews I read a story in a student newspaper. A girl described standing on the mezzanine of a popular student bar when one of the university sports teams came in. It started with the familiar catcalls, the stereotypical suggestion that she should get her tits out for the lads. Unsurprisingly she told them all to fuck off. It was at that point that one of the sportsmen stood behind her, pinned her to the balcony rail and pulled up her shirt, exposing her chest to the bar below. To accompanying cheers and jeers from his teammates. The police were called. They declined to take the matter further. My point is this: Being falsely accused of sexual assault must be unbelievably traumatic. Being sexually assaulted with impunity must be indescribably worse.
Politically charged calls for fewer prosecutions of sexual assaults are misinformed and dangerous.
Prosecution isn’t a zero sum decision. Criminal justice involves more than just the rights of the accused. An innocent person’s interest in not being convicted must be balanced against untold innocent people’s interest in not being the victim of crime. Tipping the balance too far in favour of the latter leads to tyranny but tipping it too far in favour of the former simply leads to tyranny of a different kind.
If the CPS raises the evidential threshold for productions for sexual offences against the person then it decreases the risk of an innocent person undergoing trial. But it also increases the risk of a guilty person escaping justice.
Every year around 85 000 people are raped and a further 400 000 sexually assaulted. In 2011 – 12 there were 91 000 prosecutions for Sexual Offences Against the Person (SOAP), 67 000 were successful. The balance is clearly not tipped too far towards prosecutions. Three failed prosecutions does not justify a tip in the balance.
As the experiences of Messers LeVell, Roache and Evans have so publicly demonstrated, the innocent man has another line of defence: a fair trial. There is a certain irony in supporters and members of a party, such as Roache and Evans, which has systematically eliminated so many of the rights on which citizens rely to hold their government to account in court, should now be calling for that same government to prosecute fewer cases.