Once upon a time, children, in this septic isle, we used to slope off to Sunday School in order to learn the rules of moral transgression. Moral authority was exclusively the preserve of the Church, who denounced sinners from the pulpit and relied on civil society to enforce its rules through shaming, shunning, and the occasional judicious application of the proverbial rolling pin.
Legal sanction was the province of the State, the sanction of last resort – only when the moral transgression had become a criminal transgression. As the church has retreated into a parody of its former self; fretting over whether God really exists, and urging Christians to grow beards to ’empathise’ with Muslims…so the State has stepped up to the plate of enforcing morality.
It was five years ago this week, that I was writing – with horror – of the State encroachment into the area of consenting sexual relationships. In that case it was under the guise of deciding whether the person had the mental capacity to truly understand the health risks of consenting homosexual sexual activity. It was ruled that ‘he’ hadn’t. Nobody, least of all the ‘Gay’ lobby, raised any concerns; notwithstanding that a gateway had been established that many consenting homosexuals would have had trouble crossing.
Six years ago, I was writing of the consequences of Blunkett’s ‘Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003’, whereby a woman was criminally sanctioned for attempting suicide – an act which had been perfectly legal since 1961. She had fallen foul of a previously moral duty not to incur unnecessary expense on the local taxpayers.
That ‘Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003’ was reconsidered in 2013, and became the ‘The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014’ – we didn’t pay a lot of attention. What attention there was tended to fall on the ‘plight’ of forced marriages, and as befits a nation of animal lovers – further strengthening of the dangerous dogs legislation. We barely noticed Part 9 – which reformed the Sexual Offences Act 2003, making the power of that Act more ‘flexible and effective’.
How much more ‘flexible and effective’ we can see today in an anonymous case in Northallerton, Yorkshire. A man in his 40s, who has been both tried and retried, on a charge of rape, is still not considered innocent, for the magistrates have imposed a ‘sexual risk order’ which requires him to notify Police 24 hours in advance that it might be his intention to have sexual relations with a female.
“You must disclose the details of any female including her name, address and date of birth.
“You must do this at least 24 hours prior to any sexual activity taking place.”
One assumes that the point of this order is so that the Police can beetle round to the ‘proposed recipient’ of his desire, interrupt her work or whatever she was doing, and grill her as to whether she is truly intending to consent – one hopes that he has the wit to obtain Ms Alison Saunders’ date of birth and address, so that he can give those details to the Police at least three times a week as his ‘proposed recipient’…..
Sarcasm aside, surely this is to totally misunderstand the nature of ‘consent’ as Ms Saunders would like us to understand it – that it can be withdrawn at a moments notice?
This has persuaded me to look again at the 2014 Act. When the legislation was originally proposed it contained a phrase Orwellian in its portent. ‘Clear innocence’. It was introduced as a proposal to limit the compensation government must pay following a miscarriage of justice.
Article 6(2) ECHR provides that ‘everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law’. The presumption of innocence is also a constitutional principle long recognised as fundamental by the common law.
Yet here was an attempt to divide ‘innocence’ into two categories. ‘Clear innocence’ and mere ‘innocence presumed by tradition because we lost the case’… Following lengthy debate in the House of Lords, the test was abandoned.
The ‘sexual risk order’ is handed out when the authorities have ‘reasonable cause to believe that it is necessary’ – regardless of whether the recipient has been charged, convicted, or found ‘not guilty’ – but because ‘someone‘ – a magistrate, an ordinary member of the public regardless of the fancy title – didn’t believe that ‘not guilty’ meant ‘innocent’ or even just didn’t like the inferred sexual behaviour, and thought it should be prevented.
In a week when a man previously acquitted twice of the same rape is still penalised as not being ‘properly innocent’; baby Poppi Worthington’s Father was named, without benefit of trial, as being the perpetrator of a most heinous crime – with an MP weighing in with the news that Worthington had twice before been investigated over child abuse allegations – no smoke without fire!; and Lord Bramall received the ultimate letter detailing his obscure ‘innocence’….’unless we find some new evidence’; we should have been paying more attention to the attempts to introduce this test for ‘clear innocence’.
Now the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield, is saying that the notion of beyond reasonable doubt ‘isn’t fit for purpose’ and was ‘problematic’ for sexual abuse victims. She would like to see the test of ‘balance of probabilities’ introduced to the criminal courts in sexual abuse cases.
Or ‘More likely than not’.
What price ‘more likely than not’ when you have a defendant in the dock who has already been the subject of a ‘sexual risk order’ – because somebody ‘thought’ he ought to be?