The CPS was right on Evans. Prosecution of the powerful is vital in a democracy

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.

Prosecution of the powerful is vital in a democracy. If anything the CPS should be more assertive in its scrutiny of those impositions of social or political power because (a) they volunteer for that position and thus should be held for a higher standard and (b) they are the most capable of commanding an effective defence should they be falsely accused.

There can be no doubt that Evans endured a horrible ordeal. But he was able to afford an impressive defence. The same cannot be said for the young, poor, black males who still remain the predominant victims of stop and search, or the abused women who have been forced to remain in violent relationships because of cuts to legal aid.

If you don’t think the standard of representation can be central to the outcome of a case I advise you to spend a day or two in court.

This is not to exonerate the CPS. In many cases they are overly eager to prosecute while in others they are unduly reticent. Last I month spoke on BBC Tees about police corruption. I reviewed the information about the investigation into Cleveland Police. A senior police officer had admitted ordering his assistant to lie to the IPCC  to cover up an undue use of influence. Inexplicably the CPS had declined to prosecute for Misuse of Public Office.

Rather than making knee jerk claims about SOAP, we should be calling for the CPS to be more open about how it makes its decisions to prosecute. Making the advice it receives more easily accessible would be a good start.

But in all the furor about the CPS it’s easy to miss the real scandal revealed by R v Evans. “Inappropriate drunken advances” may not be a crime but it’s a depressing state of affairs when those who aspire to represent us set the bar for acceptable behaviour so low that getting through the day without being caught breaking the law has become the common standard. It’s no surprise that a culture of taxpayer funded drunken lechery and misogyny should put young people, and many good people, off a career in politics.

Sam Fowles is a researcher in International Law and Politics at Queen Mary, University of London and blogs at the Huffington Post 

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15 Responses to “The CPS was right on Evans. Prosecution of the powerful is vital in a democracy”

  1. swatantra says:

    Evans behaved disgracefully and it was right that he was taken up on it.
    The CPS could not very well ignore complaints about him. Its about time aALL staff in Parliament were unionised so that this shocking incidents can’t happen again. The Unions would not allow bullying indecency and taking liberties to continue.

  2. Tafia says:

    The decision to prosecute must also be tempered by the consequences.

    If someone is found Not Guilty, then the CPS should pay their entire legal bill. It is wrong that people like Evans and DLT have been virtually cleaned-out and it also beggars the question how a lesser mortal with fewer means would cope.

    The people who made the allegations should in turn be prosecuted.

    It should be law that the accused is employed back in their previous job. Currently for instance, a teacher found Not Guilty will not get their job back most of the time as they are literally unemployable ‘just in case’. That is punishing the innocent. It is also discrimination and it also flies full in the face of innocent until proven guilty – instead they are being judged ‘no smoke without fire’ and ‘we can’t take the risk or re-employing them’

    The names of the accused must be given the same confidentiality as the accuser. Name neither or name both.

    As it stands, anyone can make a groundless allegation against someone that – even though they are innocent – virtually bankrupts them, takes their job and career from them and yet the accuser remains anonymous and prosecution free even though a Court has ruled that their accusation was bollocks.

  3. Julian Ruck says:

    To Tafia,

    I have to say, no-one could ever accuse you of being a politically correct grasshopper or mealy-mouthed.

    Really quite impressive!


  4. John P Reid says:

    The cuts to legal aid, have just started, the defenition of staying in a Busiveatefl relationship, obviously can mean divorce and having a divorce where you haven’t done anything wrong and still hoping to keep a home that you’ve paid a mortgage into rather than staying in a refuge, is an obvious gain, what have false allegation due to sexual abuse got to do with stop and search I don’t know, whether you wish to get into a debate about the searching for possible stolen articles ,prohibited articles, or articles to use in burglary, robbery or weapons, is one thing, and why are male young, and black youths who fit the description police are given of being suspect to those crime, well it’s because more young males commit burglaries, robberies have drugs for sale ,or have knives on them.

    I’m sorry the girl was sexually assaulted I don’t know the details so I can’t comment on why it wasn’t taken further, as for your view that being sexually assaulted and nothing is done about it, despite obvious suspects, is worse than being falsely accused of sexual assault, tell that to the young man from Iraq falsely accused of being a Peadophile and then murdered, earlier this year.

    As for the comparison, that Nigel Evans is somehow powerful, and young black males aren’t so it’s just as important that the acPS prosecuted him, utter nonsense, each case should be based on merit, if the CPS think. There’s the evidence for prosecution, whatever mistake the police made trying to persuade people who sexually had made mistakes with Mr Evans where the police then told them that their regret in their behaviour could be abuse, then that was dumb by the police, the CPS have had too in all the historic cases of late judge up the evidence to see of if its strong enough to go to court, apart from the Stephen Lawrence case ,no jury on hearing these recent, historic cases has returned a guilty verdict, maybe in other cases as there were contradictions, maybe because they felt there wasn’t enough evidence, at the same time it was also the case that the police CPS on being told similar stories by people who had never met, felt these coincidences had to be too big to be ignored.

    As for bringing up the political party of mr Roache and Evans ,what about Gery Healy,or the SWP, having sharia law style courts when 3 of their members were raped and the SWP said that the police couldn’t be trusted we’ll have a court to decide whether they did it and found them all innocent, I also recall about 20 years ago up north 2 labour donor business men, being found guilty of rape of 15year olds,

    The real question is people accused of rape have had their reputations ruined, and have even committed suicide after being beaten up, and no one in the judiciary comes to their aid,when they report being beaten up, unless there’s more prosecution for those who make false rape allegations, and more pay outs for those falsely accused of rape, then this whole thing is hypocritical

  5. Ex Labour says:

    Chased and castigated by their piss poor attitudes to Saville both the police and CPS are in “cover your arse” mode and lets show the public we can get “scalps” of the celebrities.

    It is one thing to investigate a claim, it is another to trawl through the general populous looking for “victims” to testify against a particular individual. In fact some of those dragged into court at the Evans trial said they did not believe they were a victim of crime and did not want to testify against Evans. Is this the justice we want ? And what on earth were the CPS thinking ?

    The collaspe of so many celebrity trials is an embarassment to the CPS and makes a mockery of our judicial system. People’s careers and lives have been ruined and for what ? They have had to sell their homes and property to defend themselves with no chance of repayment by the the crown. Evans has made this point and through his experience has actually changed his views on cutting legal budgets. I thought lefties would be joyful about this.

  6. Peter Copping says:

    On what they ‘knew’ they were right but the defence was that what happened was consensual and the evidence give did not support coercion. Evans was acquitted.

  7. Dan says:

    This is close to libel.

    He did nothing wrong, but your radical feminist paymasters will never accept that, will they?


  8. Tafia says:

    the evidence give did not support coercion.

    Being as some of the MAIN prosecution witnesses also thought it was consensual you have to ask which dullards in Plod and the CPS thought it was such a clever idea to take it to Court and nearly bankrupt an innocent man and waste hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money assembling the case and persuing it to it’s thoroughly pointless conclusion.

    Sooner or later one of these celebrities is going to take their accusers through the Civil Courts and deservedly and very publicly destroy their entire life – and that will be the direct result of the ineptitude of the CPS.

  9. John reid says:

    Tania, for once I agree with your last comment whole heartedly.

  10. Sam says:

    Some of these comments are hilarious.

    Will probably write another post dealing with some of the substantive issues raised in the next couple of days – they’re well worth a debate.

    That said I was laughing so hard at Dan’s comment I just had to respond.

    My “employers” are The British Institute of International and Comparative Law and the University of London.

    Neither or which are commonly described as “radical feminists” (although I’d say they’re both fairly stridently against rape…).

    They both also expect me to have a fairly good working knowledge of what constitutes libel. This doesn’t. Just some free legal advice for you right there…

  11. John reid says:

    This student Tories are nasty, I know someone who was cleared of a crime is atory, style comments, are embaressing, remind me, what party Stuart hall supported.

  12. Ex Labour says:

    @ Sam

    Why not stop being a smug twat and answer some of the points ? You have the most obvious superiority complex and your ramblings lay it bare for all to see. If you cannot restrain your urge to demean and belittle those who respond then dont say anything. If I were in your position I would thank them for having the patience to wade through such turgid drivel and make a comment.

  13. Sam says:

    Turgid drivel which you appear to read religiously…

    Also “don’t” has an apostrophe.

    But thanks for reading!

  14. John Reid says:

    I can’t speak for Ex labour maybe he’d like to vote labour again, if he could see us as a democratic socialist party, who actually listen to more than one P.O.V and realises there’s more than one side to a story, so we can be trusted to rule, and seeing your articles, Sam it assures him, we’re not fit to rule,

    By the way your pedantic , comment about don’t, being spelt wrong, just somes up that you dont actually respond to points of criticism ,in your narrow minded view, based in not bothering to see that ,where some rogue Tories may have said silly or hypocritical things over the years, we ought too get our own act together before we criticise .

    Can’t you just keep SchTum for 5 weeks and stop driving away potential labour voters till after the Elections, then if you wish to lose Labour the next election with your views, you can feel free.

  15. Ex Labour says:

    @john Reid

    You are certainly correct that after 30 years of voting Labour I would certainly like to do so again. However as you point out there are those activists who have an agenda to promote views which do not represent the majority and present these views with arrogance and contempt for those who disagree. They also fail to address any criticisms directly.

    Sam is a man, according to his musings, that believes prosecution of the powerful is democratic, whereas an elected government holding a referendum is undemocratic. When you analyse this it’s clearly a far left position which would meet with the approval of various communist dictatorships worldwide. Would he have been so enthusiastic if it were a Labour MP as opposed to Evans? I think not. Would he be so anti referenda had the subject not been the EU, pet cause of the left? I think not.

    Of course other contributors on here see the contradiction and choose to disagree, but Sam chooses not to respond but to ridicule as his stance has no viable defence.

    Labour’s left need to drop the 6th form politics and enter the real world and develop messages that resonate with the majority. The current sound bites are tired and past their sell-by date. The constant attacks on the wealthy is sounding more like the politics of envy, moreover it’s sounding vengeful when Siliband talks about a day of reckoning.

    Would I like to vote Labour again – yes absolutely. Will it be possible with the current leadership or activists such as Sam – no is the answer to that one.

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