11 Apr 2014 at 08:59
I am utterly delighted that Nigel Evans has been acquitted of serious allegations of sexual assault. He is a good, kind, gentle and decent man and a very old friend. I hope that he will be able to reconstruct his political career. Hope? Well yes. He might have been acquitted but the stigma is still there. The country has been salivating at tales of hands down trousers, drunken gropings and late night romps. And there is vociferous group of militants who believe that whatever the decision of a jury, any man accused of rape must be guilty. So in the eyes of some, Nigel’s acquittal is meaningless. If nothing else this case highlights the need for anonymity of defendants is cases of sexual assault and rape. Ah, some will say, this will prevent other victims coming forward. Not so. Make it a rule that all defendants in sex related cases are automatically granted anonymity but with the prosecution having the right to apply to a judge with a rape ticket to waive this in exceptional circumstances.
The next question is whether there should be a review as to how the CPS bring rape cases to court. I prosecute these sort of cases and there has been flotillas of these reviews. The guidelines in lay terms are that complainanants have a right to be heard and this has to be weighed against the strength of the evidence. And each case is unique. Yet we are all victims of history. The horrors of Savile still resonate. We must never return to the days when those who want to complain are ignored or not taken seriously. This is of particular concern if the allegations are ancient. How does the CPS decide, unless it is gross and obvious, that the complainant is genuine or a vindictive gold digger? If there is supporting evidence, fine. But in most cases involving sex there is no independent evidence. Who do you believe? By and large it must be for a jury to decide.
That is not to say that where there are serious concerns there should not be case by case reviews. As a rule of thumb it is wise never to sound off about a trial unless you have read the court papers as opposed to the newspapers. But I did speak to Nigel after the prosecution case had closed and I commented that I would be amazed if a jury convicted after what had unfolded in court. The question for any review is how much of this was known to officers and reviewing lawyers beforehand or did it all emerge through skilful cross examination. I have a every confidence that Dominic Grieve, the finest Attorney General I have ever known, will refer this to the DPP.
But what does seem a bit daft is the over reaction in Parliament. Everyone is screaming about a new code of conduct. Oh, for God’s sake, MPs are no different from anybody else. Sometimes they will make a pass, drunk or sober. It may be accepted or rejected. If it is accepted fine, off to bed. If not desist. What has to be stamped out is the predatory male who uses his position to prey on young men and women. Sadly, this is not uncommon. There are some horror stories. And there are a group of middle middle aged MPs who had better change their ways or else the only pleasure they enjoy will be Her Majesty’s.