Resignation of Alun Cairns Highlights Difficulty in Securing Convictions in Rape Trials
Welsh Secretary, Alun Cairns, resigned over claims he denied knowing about former aide Ross England’s attempt to sabotage a rape trial in April 2018. The entire scenario highlights some of the key difficulties prosecutors face in securing rape convictions in contested cases.
In recent years, attempts by defence lawyers or witnesses in rape cases to bring details of a victim’s sexual past into the trial have come ferociously contested. In 2018, a cross-party group of MPs and lawyers began a campaign to enhance restrictions on bringing personal sexual history into proceedings.
What did Ross England do, and why was this so heavily criticised?
Ross England was called as a witness in a rape trial where his friend. James Hackett was the defendant. Before the commencement of the trial, the judge made clear that a victim’s sexual history should not be spoken about in front of the jury, as it was irrelevant to the defence. However, when England gave evidence from the witness box, he proceeded to speak about the victim’s sexual history. Judge Hopkins said:
“Why did you say that? Are you completely stupid?”
“It was quite clear what the question was. You have managed, singlehandedly, and I have no doubt it was deliberate on your part, to sabotage this trial. Mr England, as far as I am concerned, this matter, so far as you are concerned, isn’t ended. I shall be writing personal letters to people who are politically close to you and I hope they take appropriate action. Get out of my court.”
Judge Hopkins ordered a retrial to be held at Cardiff Crown Court where Hackett was convicted of the offence and sentenced to five years imprisonment. It was only last month that is was reported that Hackett caused the trial to collapse after his appeal was dismissed.
The Ministry of Justice published an analysis of more than 300 rape cases in 2017. In 92% of these cases, there was no evidence of the alleged victim’s sexual history introduced to proceedings. The publication concluded that disclosure of personal evidence was sufficient and that the existing law strikes a balance between protecting complainants in rape cases and ensuring a fair trial for defendants. However, the Ministry of Justice refused to implement an outright ban on personal sexual history being raised in court.
There has also been concern recently about the decline in cases reaching court as a result of disclosure requirements forcing complainants to hand over their mobile phones. The amount of personal data and material that may be gathered from a mobile phone again raises the issue of how much a complainant’s sexual past should be revealed in court.
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