by Michael Naughton, the Legislation Faculty, College of Bristol
Introduction: The competing camps on alleged sexual offences
Our current up to date second may be characterised by way of an more and more divided society alongside strict adversarial strains. Whether or not it’s the latest public conversations about Brexit, COVID vaccinations, local weather change or mere routine day-to-day political debates, there appears little or no place for stability, nuance, nor objectivity. Certainly, in no matter debate one cares to contemplate, the selection introduced to us appears to be to easily decide a aspect the place: ‘you might be both with us or in opposition to us’; ‘in or out’; ‘certainly one of us or certainly one of them’; ‘a good friend or an enemy’.
Nowhere is that this clearer than the opposing camps which have shaped in response to the extremely emotive phenomenon of alleged sexual offences. I’ve written beforehand about alleged sexual offences (see Naughton, 2007; 2011a; 2019; 2024), noting how the opposing factions which have emerged in response to uncorroborated allegations of sexual offences, the justice for victims of sexual offences group versus the justice for victims of false allegations of sexual offences group, are engaged in a battle for energy for the way the general public view such allegations and the way legislators and coverage makers ought to reply to them.
In my analysis, I’ve all the time argued from the standpoint that true justice can solely be achieved by makes an attempt to get to the reality of alleged crimes; that the injustice and types of hurt induced to real victims of sexual abuse or assault and people skilled by real victims of false allegations of sexual offences should not mutually unique.
It’s on this foundation that I’ve contended that an goal method to alleged sexual offences from the angle of reality and justice might be as a lot involved with the injustice and types of hurt induced to these falsely accused as it’s with the injustice and harms induced to victims of sexual offences.
Put merely, to decide on a aspect in response to such social phenomenon is problematical as one sort of injustice or hurt doesn’t cancel out one other kind injustice or hurt; a priority for one sort of alleged sufferer doesn’t imply that we should not have any regard in any way for one more sort of alleged sufferer.
Certainly, each victims of sexual offences and victims of false allegations of sexual offences expertise an intensive array of types of hurt which they might by no means get better from. When it comes to victims of sexual offences, it’s estimated that round 20% of ladies will expertise sexual assault, as an example, in some unspecified time in the future of their life, the implications of which may be devastating. This could embrace psychological trauma, bodily and monetary types of hurt, the consequences of which may be skilled lengthy after the unique assault. Damage, undesirable being pregnant, sexually transmitted infections, and the breakdown of relationships are simply among the long-term impacts of sexual violence that persist effectively past the instant aftermath of sexual assaults (see Watt et al, 2022).
Alternatively, false allegations of sexual offences may destroy lives. It might probably damage careers and reputations, and there can be everlasting and ongoing social stigma, psychological trauma and types of cultural and monetary hurt to direct victims and their households when the label ‘intercourse offender’ is falsely utilized (see Greene, 2011; Gambaccini, 2015; Warr, 2017). Furthermore, when such allegations are falsely made, the ‘no smoke with out fireplace’ discourse can conflate those that could also be or are harmless with those that might have or did commit the offence (see Jones, 2011; Naughton and Tan, 2011: 70–71), which may be devastating for genuinely harmless victims and their households, in addition to society as an entire by way of the local weather of suspicion and diminished belief that allegations of sexual offences can engender (Naughton, 2011a: i).
Regardless of the readability of those easy information, the opposing teams on uncorroborated allegations of sexual abuse or assault stay as divided as ever, with the combatants within the opposing camps seemingly unwilling or unable to contemplate that they might be supporting an alleged sufferer of both a sexual offence or a false allegation of a sexual offence who is probably not truthful as they combat for discursive supremacy and the full annihilation of their competing tribe.
False Allegations Watch (FAW): Searching for justice from a place of reality
It’s inside this context that False Allegations Watch (FAW) has been established because the second Empowering the Harmless (ETI) subproject (see Empowering the Harmless (ETI)). To lift consciousness of the causes and dangerous penalties of false allegations of sexual offences with the intention of such exercise performing as a precursor for broad ranging reforms, False Allegations Watch (FAW) options articles on a devoted web site (see False Allegations Watch (FAW)), which centre on alleged false allegations, fees or wrongful convictions for sexual offences. FAW additionally options articles on the broader context inside which false allegations of sexual offences can happen, together with the laws, insurance policies and/or cultures that may act to facilitate or allow such false allegations to be made.
In distinction to the present opposing sides which have shaped in response to allegations of sexual offences, nevertheless, False Allegations Watch (FAW) shouldn’t be affiliated with a aspect within the debate, nor does it work from the mere perception that alleged victims of false allegations of sexual offences did or didn’t do the sexual offences that they have been accused, charged or convicted for.
Quite the opposite, False Allegations Watch (FAW) neither assumes, nor works on the idea, that the alleged harmless victims of false allegations within the instances that characteristic on its web site or in its wider public discourses are harmless victims of allegations, fees or alleged wrongful conviction and/or imprisonment. Slightly, False Allegations Watch (FAW) was established as a result of harmless victims of false allegations may be, and are, routinely wrongly accused, charged and/or convicted and imprisoned in England and Wales as a consequence of current police and Crown Prosecution service (CPS) cultures, insurance policies and/or failings.
False Allegations Watch (FAW), then, is anxious solely with the reality of whether or not alleged harmless victims of false allegations did or didn’t commit the alleged sexual offence. Solely by this method can true justice prevail for real victims of alleged sexual offences and of false allegations and wrongful convictions, alike.
With this in thoughts, it appears necessary to spotlight the Empowering the Harmless (ETI) ‘Disclaimer & Sufferer Assertion’, which additionally options on the False Allegations Watch (FAW) web site. It makes it clear that whether it is discovered that an alleged harmless sufferer of wrongful conviction or false allegation of a sexual offence in a case featured by ETI shouldn’t be harmless, ETI will stop involvement with the case and any details about the case will deleted from its web sites, social media platforms and YouTube channel (see Empowering the Harmless (ETI)).
Erosion of safeguards in opposition to false allegations and wrongful convictions for alleged sexual offences
A significant downside within the space of alleged sexual offences, which alerts the necessity for False Allegations Watch (FAW), is the erosion of safeguards that have been initially launched into alleged intercourse offence trials with the intention of defending harmless victims of false allegations from wrongful convictions.
Particularly, s. 32(1) of the Legal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 abolished the longstanding requirement on judges to challenge a warning to juries when summing up the ‘risks’ of convicting defendants charged with sexual offences on the uncorroborated testimony of alleged victims. This adopted s. 34 of the Legal Justice Act 1988, which abrogated the requirement on judges to offer a warning to juries about convicting an accused on the uncorroborated proof of a kid.
I’ve argued elsewhere (Naughton, 2013: 54-63), that these reforms meant that false allegations at the moment are truly facilitated by a felony justice system that enables uncorroborated witness testimonies to be admissible proof in felony trials, regardless of the inherent unreliability of such proof.
But, because the enchantment judgment within the instances of R v Henry; R v Manning famous, such a warning on uncorroborated allegations of sexual offences was, and nonetheless is, wanted as a result of false allegations are simply made however may be tough and even unimaginable to disprove:
“[T]right here is not any magic components or mumbo jumbo required in a course regarding corroboration. What the choose has to do is to make use of clear and easy language that can with none doubt convey to the jury that in instances of alleged sexual offences it’s actually harmful to convict on the proof … alone. That is harmful as a result of human expertise has proven that … [a] … false story … could be very straightforward to manufacture, however extraordinarily tough to refute. Such tales are fabricated for all types of causes, which I needn’t now enumerate, and generally for no cause in any respect” (R v Henry; R v Manning, paragraph 153).
It appears clear that the issuing of a warning of the inherent risks of uncorroborated witness testimony, or oral proof from ‘suspect witnesses’, as they have been previously known as (see Legislation Fee, 1991: 23), was explicitly meant to supply defendants with a good trial and to ward in opposition to the opportunity of wrongful convictions.
The proof from profitable enchantment instances within the early post-corroboration-warning period is equally clear. The abolition of the warning on uncorroborated oral proof has contributed to wrongful convictions that have been brought on by people who deliberately give false testimony of alleged sexual offences that’s not supported by every other type of proof.
Warren Blackwell, as an example, was convicted at Northampton Crown Court docket in October 1999 for a sexual offence that he was alleged to have dedicated within the early hours of New 12 months’s Day that yr. He served virtually three and a half years in jail for the offence. It was not disputed at trial that Blackwell and his complainant had met earlier within the night at a celebration at a village social membership and that through the night they’d performed a sport of pool in opposition to one another. At round 12.50 a.m. the complainant alleged that she went outdoors for some contemporary air and that she was grabbed from behind by Blackwell who pressured her to a grass space the place he repeatedly punched and indecently assaulted her (see R v Blackwell). His conviction was quashed by the Court docket of Enchantment (Legal Division) (CACD) in September 2006, nevertheless, following a assessment by the Legal Instances Assessment Fee (CCRC). It found that his accuser, who had modified her title no less than eight occasions and had a propensity for self-harm, had made no less than 5 different false allegations of sexual and bodily assault to police in three separate forces; that she was married twice and made false allegations in opposition to each husbands, certainly one of whom was a policeman; had as soon as accused her personal father of sexual assault, however police concluded she had made it up; and had accused a boy of rape when she was a young person, just for a health care provider to find she was nonetheless a virgin (see Greenhill, 2006; R v Blackwell).
In one other pertinent case, Roger Beardmore was convicted of the rape and tried rape of a woman between the ages of three and 6 years outdated at Stafford Crown Court docket in March 1998 that allegedly occurred within the early Nineteen Nineties. In December 2001, nevertheless, his conviction was overturned after he had served three years in jail when the complainant, who was aged 14 on the time, admitted that she lied to realize her mom’s consideration. She mentioned that she retracted her allegations as a result of she needed to appropriate a fallacious which had been ‘protecting her awake, crying all evening’ (see Peek, 2001).
Additional erosion of safeguards within the post-Savile period
Such miscarriages of justice (I may have cited many others) present robust proof that the corroboration warning mustn’t have been abolished and that it must be reinstated. Regardless of this, and likewise with the said political intention to convict extra intercourse offenders, nonetheless additional main reforms have been carried out in response to criticism of previous failures by police and prosecutors to correctly examine allegations of CSA within the pre-Savile period and convey offenders to justice (see BBC Information, 2017).
This has seen a paradigm shift in police and prosecution responses to allegations of sexual abuse and assault making it much more seemingly that harmless victims might be falsely accused and wrongly convicted. From a place of questioning the veracity of allegations as a safeguard to guard probably harmless people from false allegations and wrongful conviction, the default place now’s to imagine alleged victims; furthermore, to see complainants as victims on the level of criticism, until there’s compelling proof on the contrary.
As this relates, particularly, to police practise, the School of Policing, the physique which units requirements and steering for police in England and Wales, emphasised that: ‘…when an allegation is obtained, police ought to [now] imagine this account and file it as against the law (School of Policing, 2016 cited Naughton, 2019: 465; see additionally BBC Information, 2016).
Equally, prosecutors at the moment are mandated underneath the phrases of the brand new ‘Pointers on Prosecuting Instances of Baby Sexual Abuse’ issued in 2013 (and revised in 2017) to work on the idea that these making allegations are victims, with prosecutors instructed to ‘guard in opposition to in search of “corroboration” of the sufferer’s account or utilizing the shortage of “corroboration” as a cause to not proceed with a case’ (Crown Prosecution Service, 2017: paragraph 55).
These reforms, along with the abolition of the corroboration warning, make false allegations and wrongful conviction extra seemingly. Additionally they undermine the fundamental proper for these accused of crimes to be presumed harmless, which is enshrined within the Common Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the European Conference on Human Rights (ECHR), and is enacted domestically within the UK by the Human Rights Act 1998 (HRA) (for a extra intensive critique of the so-called presumption of innocence see Naughton, 2011b).
The essential challenge right here is that justice shouldn’t be meant to be a political sport to be measured by the variety of convictions for any specific alleged felony offence. Slightly, it’s presupposed to be a course of that genuinely seeks the reality of whether or not a person suspect or accused did or didn’t commit the alleged felony offence that they’re accused of committing.
Contra this, the erosion of the trial safeguards geared toward stopping wrongful convictions following allegations of sexual offences have been for political, somewhat than authorized, causes, as was the inversion of the presumption of innocence by way of police and CPS follow which sees them now required to easily imagine the (alleged) sufferer.
Furthermore, making it simpler to convict alleged intercourse offenders, ‘to get the numbers up‘, by treating these accused of intercourse offences in a different way from these accused of different alleged crimes, unbalances the scales of justice in opposition to these accused. The inevitable end result is that harmless victims might be falsely accused and wrongly convicted and imprisoned for crimes that they didn’t commit, or which didn’t happen (see Naughton, 2003).
It’s on this context that it not unreasonable to say that the felony justice course of has been corrupted to such an extent in regard to alleged sexual offences that suspects, and defendants at the moment are thought to be responsible till they’re confirmed harmless.
I believe it’s apt to conclude with some examples of instances of false allegations of sexual offences which were reported within the media over latest months. These instances additional proof the propensity of false allegations of sexual offences underneath the present felony justice system regime and the necessity for False Allegations Watch (FAW) and its work in highlighting and difficult this problematic actuality:
- In October 2022, Sharon Taylor was additionally ordered to finish 30 days rehabilitation and given a restraining order, banning her from contacting her husband, David, for making false rape claims in opposition to him following the collapse of their 21-year marriage (see Blake, 2022).
- Additionally in October 2022, Cathy Richardson was jailed for 5 years after it was revealed she had lied when she claimed she had been raped quite a few occasions by two totally different males (ITV Information, 2022).
- In July 2022, Jade Wass was jailed for 2 years for falsely claiming that her blind neighbour had raped her (Phillips, 2022).
- In April 2022, Chantelle Clarke was given a 12-month suspended jail sentence for making a false allegation of rape in opposition to a weak grownup she knew from their time attending faculty collectively (Toner, 2022).
- In March 2022, Tina Williamson was jailed for greater than three years for a false rape allegation, which the choose mentioned was against the law that struck on the basis of the felony justice system and undermined real victims (Payne, 2022).