Ten days ago, at a lunch with some mates, the topic of celebrity sex-charges came up largely because the William Roche and Dave Lee Travis cases were then nearing their end. The consensus – unaided by any personal attendance at the trials and therefore based entirely our ‘reading’ of media reports – was that they would probably be found not guilty. As they subsequently were.
The subject is vexed and complicated.
The conviction rate in cases of alleged rape is small and the number of rape cases that ever reach court is believed to be a fraction of the number that actually occur. Which is why, for years, the authorities have been doing all they can to encourage more victims of this despicable crime to come forward and testify – an ordeal which no doubt for many is as unwelcome as the original offence, and this without considering the prospect of then having to go to court and face hostile questioning from the defendant’s lawyer.
Another factor, of course, is the ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ requirement in criminal cases under the laws of England and Wales, a significantly higher standard than the ‘balance of probability’ applying to civil actions.
Then there’s the issue of ‘naming the accused’ in sex cases. Many defendants (especially celebrity defendants) complain that they suffer the stress of two trials, one of them by the media, because of it and claim that an infinitely more just practice would be for those accused of sex crimes to remain anonymous unless and until they are proven guilty. The argument runs that – given the ‘there’s no smoke without fire’ assumption that thrives in human society – the reputations of ‘innocent’ defendants suffer irreparable and unfair damage.
All difficult stuff to which there are no easy solutions.
Here’s a thought-provoking piece by Catherine Bennett that appears on the website of The Guardian/Observer today – INAPPROPRIATE BEHAVIOUR