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Top tax QC sparks Twitter spat with criminal barristers, academics and more after writing controversial article about rape trials

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Jo Maugham QC holds his ground despite social media flak for use of stats, ‘non-expert’ opinion and apparent decision to ‘block’ barrister

A top tax QC has irked members of the criminal bar and more this Bank Holiday weekend, after he wrote an article about rape trials that one criminal law lecturer described as “troubling”.

Jo Maugham QC said in his article about rape trials that, according to stats from the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics, less than 2% of victims will see their rapist convicted. He concluded that our criminal justice system “allows men to rape almost with impunity”.

Lawyers, “the guardians of the criminal justice system”, have a special role to play in changing this. But, Maugham’s New Statesman article continued:

“Instead, all too often, we look for others to blame. We lobby against changes to the status quo. We assert a unique expertise that excludes other voices. But we do not use that expertise to design positive change.”

He suggested in the article that “the solution can only be to change the law”, and that a first step may be to ask whether trial by jury in rape cases serves the public interest. He later said on Twitter: “I don’t know whether removing juries for rape cases is part of the answer”, but “I’m plenty entitled to say there is a question to answer”.

Rebecca Herbert, a criminal law barrister, seemed to disagree with Maugham on this. She said: “I actually do these cases, day in and day out, and do not believe juries should be replaced or could be improved upon.”

Responding to Herbert, who left a thread of tweets about Maugham’s article, the Devereux Chambers tax QC said:

Later that day, Herbert said Maugham had blocked her, “apparently for having the temerity to disagree with him”.

When we asked Maugham about this, he said: “There have been occasions when people have disagreed with me on twitter. But it’s not something I’ve ever blocked anyone for.”

James Turner QC, a tenant at Quadrant Chambers, said on this topic:

The Secret Barrister also revealed he’d been unfollowed by Maugham, which the anonymous advocate said was “very disappointing”.

Herbert and Maugham weren’t the only two lawyers to clash over the content of his article. Barrister Jaime Hamilton tweeted Maugham that “you do yourself a great disservice by sneering at people like Rebecca that do have a great deal of experience in this area”. He said:

Maugham is well-known to be among the best in his area of law, but his credentials to write an article about rape were touched upon by a number of tweeters.

One, barrister Michael Polak, said it’s “worrying” that “Maugham’s non-expert opinion (his words not mine — but not made clear in the article) are given a very wide platform in the New Statesman”, while criminal barristers’ were not. Another tweeter even used the hashtag #StickToTax.

The 2018 Chambers Most List

This is where Maugham, replying to Polak, riled a number of tweeters when he said “people outside the guild think there’s a problem”. Francis FitzGibbon, a silk at 23 Essex Street who feels so passionately about Maugham’s article that he wrote a blog post disagreeing with it, said “‘guild’ is a bit mean. We are professionals who do far more of our business in public gaze than dare I say top-draw tax lawyers!” FitzGibbon added: “We may even have useful insights about our subject matter. Just saying.”

The Secret Barrister too had something to say here:

Also at issue was Maugham’s use of statistics.

In his piece, Maugham said someone who is raped has between a 1.1 and 1.8% prospect of seeing their rapist convicted. This is based on statistics from the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office and the Office for National Statistics from 2013 that say there were 60,000-95,000 victims of rape, but only 1,070 convictions.

However, Neil Baki, a barrister at 25 Bedford Row, claimed Maugham had “quoted misleading stats”. When prompted by Maugham to explain why he thinks these statistics are misleading, Baki replied that Maugham had “provided no evidence that conviction rates are too low. On the contrary, in previous tweets to you I have demonstrated that conviction rates in rape cases alone are c58%”. To Baki’s tweets, Maugham said:

This wasn’t just a barrister-on-barrister spat, either.

Hannah Quirk, a criminal law lecturer, for one said she feared Maugham’s “troubling” suggestion on how to improve rape conviction rates may be at the expense of wrongful convictions. Heck, even Michael Gove got involved at one point!

Maugham, after we reached out for comment, told us:

“There is a powerful need to reform the law so that it better protects the 52,000 odd women likely to be raped this year. I am delighted that the case made in the New Statesman has already been recognised by a current cabinet minister and other members of the Westminster and Holyrood communities. I plan to continue to write and campaign on an issue I care passionately about.”

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26 Comments

Anonymous

Very brave allowing comments on this knowing how litigious Maugham is.

99% of the Bar think he is a prize winker.

(72)(1)

The Sherman Brothers

🎼 Oh it’s a Joly holiday with Jolyon….

Pretending that he’s working class…

He claims that he’s bloomin’ ordi-nary…

But really he’s up his own [ ] 🎶

This post has been moderated because it breaches Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(20)(0)

Michael

Please leave a message after the Gove…

GOOOOOOOOOVE!!!!!!

(5)(0)

Does not know Katie King

Quite apart from whatever his views may be on this issue, and how correct they may or may not be – Maugham is such a bellend.

(48)(0)

Anonymous

What a pleb.

(8)(2)

Cheeky Charlie

In his profile picture he appears as though he has just had something inserted into his person but is trying to pretend he hasn’t….

(8)(0)

Anonymous

Had enough of experts etc etc

(6)(0)

Anonymous

I don’t agree with his opinion one bit, but it’s ridiculous to suggest that only criminal barristers can or should have a view on criminal justice.

(12)(5)

Anonymous

TSB’s contributions are rather charming: the prose style of a short Advice.

S/he is spot on about everything law-related and I am not being critical. But there’s often something wonderful about tweets written by members of the bar. Like a Victorian clergyman guest presenting on Radio 1.

(8)(0)

Anonymous

“There have been occasions when people have disagreed with me on twitter.”

HAHAHA

(15)(0)

Anonymous

Why on earth do you give the oxygen of publicity to the postings of an AH like Maugham.
It must be very slow news day. No doubt there will be a story about Lord Harley next.

(15)(0)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

The next time a criminal lawyer even mentions tax or how much they pay…

(0)(1)

Anonymous

Even Michael Gove got involved….this wouldn’t be because JM QC is a client journalist, would it ?

The debate seems to be on the 58pc conviction statistics versus the 2pc plus whatever new policy Gove might have on the stocks which JM might be the advance guard for.

I think everyone over 16 is entitled to have an opinion on rape.

(5)(0)

Just Anonymous

Ad hominem attacks are tedious. So are arguments from authority. And spats over who’s following who on Twitter.

All that said, I disagree with Maugham. He writes his in article:

“The outcome of trials must follow from the evidence rather than preconceived ideas of how women “should” behave or the “correct” response to sexual threat.”

I agree entirely. His mistake, however, is to conclude that juries are not deciding cases on the evidence, just because the conviction rate is low. Possibly juries are deficient. However, without more evidence, I would suggest that the conviction rate is low because rape is inherently hard to prove by the very nature of the offence.

However, Maugham clearly doesn’t think much of the inherent difficulty of the burden of proof. He further asserts:

“It is not good enough for us to repeat the saying that it is better for ten guilty men to escape than one innocent man to suffer. That is not a sufficient answer. It is better, of course, for the guilty men. But it is worse for the women whose lives are destroyed by rapes that only happen because a system that convicts in one in 56 or fewer. We must weigh on the scales both the tragedy endured by a tiny number of men wrongly convicted of rape, but also the tragedy of the huge numbers of women whose rapes would be prevented if our system more effectively deterred rape. We must engage with that balance.”

Here, I must fundamentally disagree. Maugham is considering the wrong balance. The correct balance is between a society which considers you guilty of rape until proven innocent, and the current society we live in, where all are innocent until proven guilty.
The former, I suggest, is not a society worth living in at all. Indeed, it would be a society of fear and terror, since every man would know that merely crossing the wrong woman could land them with a rape conviction, as disproving a malicious allegation would, for all practical purposes, be impossible.

(46)(0)

Scep Tick

Jolyon Maugham QC in “let’s all talk about Jolyon Maugham QC” shocker.

Perhaps if he is that omnipotent he can name every single person who has committed rape and yet was acquitted. Then he can come up with a stat like 2%. Indeed, if the chance of a rapist being convicted were that low, it should be easy for him to identify a few.

(17)(0)

The Boy in the Shat Pajamas

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(0)(0)

Retired Queen's Counsel

So even if a defendant is acquitted by a jury which has heard all the evidence and are the only body who are in a position to judge the credibility and reliability of the female concerned, he is still a “rapist” according to some reviewers here. What happened to the presumption of innocence and respect for the verdict of the jury? There is a lot of noise about this issue from those who have never attended even one rape trial. I have conducted many such cases, and it is my experience like to be sure before they convict, and what’s wrong with that, might I ask? What other system do those who complain about jury verdicts suggest? I know of one case where the female admitted in the course of cross-examination that her complaint against the boys concerned was a tissue of lies. I don’t doubt that sometimes weighing up evidence is a difficult task, but the virtue of the jury system is that the verdict is reached by a random and independent body of twelve citizens who do not know eachother. I can’t think of a better system.

(15)(2)

Lord Chief Justice emeritus

“So even if a defendant is acquitted by a jury … he is still a “rapist” according to some reviewers here”

Juries which conclude that a defendant “probably” committed the crime must acquit. Some people acquitted of rape are probably rapists.

ps – you’re not a QC.

(6)(1)

Anonymous

Hit the nail on the head there mate well done.

Not sure I’d like to convict, jail and indelibly mark a man as a rapist on the basis that he ‘probably’ did it.

(7)(0)

Retired Queen's Counsel

Should read “that juries like to be sure” ……apologies.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Juries serve an important function in reducing the risk of unfair convictions. The rights of the accused and accuser must both be considered.

I’m concerned that there are a lot of unsafe convictions due to there not being full and proper disclosure.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

Dear Jolyon should be hauled before the Bar Council for conduct likely to bring spectacles into serious disrepute.

(18)(0)

Anonymous

This post has been removed because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

(1)(0)

A barrister

“Maugham is well-known to be among the best in his area of law” – LMAO!

(13)(0)

Comments are closed.

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