William Roache & claims of a “witch hunt”
Following the acquittal of William Roache of rape and indecent assault allegations the inevitable backlash is occurring. From the media reports since, office gossip to tweets the complainants in the case have been accused of lying and again there are calls for anonymity of rape defendants and claims of a “celebrity witch hunt”.
Roache has been cleared by a jury and I accept that decision. What I do not accept is the response to it. Mr Roache is innocent in the eyes of the law and entitled to be treated as such. However, his innocence, in this respect does not equate to the guilt of the complainants of lying. This seems to be the accepted view of many commentators. In the Crown Court the guilt or innocence of an individual is ultimately decided by a jury. The accused is classed, quite rightly, as innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof lays with the prosecution and the test is high. The jury must be satisfied “beyond reasonable doubt” in order to convict. Our system, unlike that of the US, does not allow for the jury to give any reasons for their decision. We can never know upon what they based their decision.
We never know, with an acquittal, whether there was some doubt as to guilt or if they did not believe the allegations at all. Yet, it is often taken that the defence case was fully accepted and that is where the truth lies. I’ve seen calls, even prior to the verdict, that “the mentally unstable women” who accused Roache should face treatment or prosecution. Also, as with the Michael Le Vell case, that the case should never be brought. An acquittal does not mean the case should never have been brought in the first place. The test as to whether a person should be prosecuted is based on the test as to whether there is “a reasonable prospect of conviction” and this is based on witness statements (or video interviews) and possible other evidence and the defendant’s account in interview. While the defence has to reveal the basis of its defence and its proposed witnesses the case at court is very different, with the witnesses subject to cross-examination and the defence case given in full. These can be very different.
In addition at the end of the prosecution case in a trial the defence can also make a submission of no case to answer. If the judge agrees then the case will go no further, without the defendant having to give or call any evidence. This is based on the case of Galbraith and states as follows:
(1) If there is no evidence that the crime alleged has been committed by the defendant, there is no difficulty. The judge will of course stop the case.
(2) The difficulty arises where there is some evidence but it is of a tenuous character, for example because of inherent weakness or vagueness or because it is inconsistent with other evidence. (a) Where the judge comes to the conclusion that the prosecution evidence, taken at its highest, is such that a jury properly directed could not properly convict upon it, it is his duty, upon a submission being made, to stop the case. (b) Where however the prosecution evidence is such that its strength or weakness depends on the view to be taken of a witness's reliability or other matters which are generally speaking within the province of the jury and where on one possible view of the facts there is evidence upon which a jury could properly come to the conclusion that the defendant is guilty, then the judge should allow the matter to be tried by the jury....
It is possible for a judge to come to the conclusion the case should not proceed in respect of one or all of the charges without a submission from the defence. In Roache’s case it would appear one of these instances occurred as the judge directed a not guilty verdict in respect of one count of indecent assault, as the complainant had said she had no actual memory of it. He did not do so in respect of the other charges, and I do not know if any submission was made, as this would not have been reported. The judge therefore must have concluded that there was evidence upon which a jury could have convicted. I am not in any way suggesting therefore that the judge concluded he was guilty but that simply the case was sufficiently strong enough to proceed to the defence case. Now had the judge felt the test was met for the case to proceed but actually felt it was wrongly brought I am fairly confident he would have reflected that view following the acquittal.
This now moves me on to claims of a “celebrity witch hunt”. Suggestions are the case against Roache would never have been brought had it not been for the “Savile effect”. The effect of the reports of sexual abuse by Jimmy Savile does seem to be an increase in reporting of sexual assault and rape. This, no doubt, because victims realised they would be believed. The conviction of Stuart Hall also must have had a similar effect. I very much doubt that the case of Savile would have resulted in the CPS taking cases to court that had no hope of conviction.
They would know the high profile of these cases would bring closer scrutiny and criticism and what is the point of bringing criticism on the organisation and also putting potential victims through the ordeal of a court process for nothing? And if there is such a celebrity witch hunt what about the conviction of Hall, who admitted his guilt? And the no further action taken against Jim Davidson and others? It hardly seems at the moment that the CPS are out to take celebrities to court on a whim.