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Justice minister hits back at Charlotte Proudman’s criticism of court procedure for rape victims

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MoJ’s David Wolfson rebuts Goldsmith barrister’s tweet, which stated that rape victims ‘sit alone, isolated, unable to see what is happening in court’

David Wolfson and Charlotte Proudman

A government minister has taken to Twitter to tackle what he describes as “inaccurate” claims about the treatment of rape victims in court.

David Wolfson QC said the allegation that complainants are “isolated” behind screens in court “falls somewhere on the spectrum between misleading and wrong”.

The original tweet, by Dr Charlotte Proudman of Goldsmith Chambers, said that “Victims of rape are put behind screens & curtains in court to protect them from abusers. They sit alone, isolated, unable to see what is happening in court”.

“Meanwhile the abuser sits in court as a ‘normal party’, they can see everything. Let’s put them behind screens shall we,” Proudman added.

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Criminal barristers leapt in to say that complainants who choose to give evidence behind a screen so that they don’t have to look at their alleged rapist can still see the judge, jury and barrister asking them questions.

Wolfson tweeted: “This falls somewhere on the spectrum between misleading and wrong It falls right in the middle of ‘please don’t tweet inaccurate information about such an important issue’. I’m always happy to discuss ways to improve the court system. But let’s cut the hyperbole. #RuleofLaw”

Iain Watkinson, a detective, tweeted: “Special measures apply to any victim/witness with their agreement if it’s likely to assist them in giving evidence. They see the barristers, jury & judge but not the defendant which is the main idea of the screens”.

But not everyone agreed with Wolfson’s response, with Natalie Page, a campaigner and advocate for women affected by abuse, tweeting: “It’s not ‘hyperbole’ to suggest that special measures impede victims full participation in justice. Recently an abuse victim was allowed special measures to give evidence, but if she wanted to hear the whole case then she had to sit unprotected in the public gallery.”

Proudman told Legal Cheek: “Lord Wolfson seems vexed by a barrister and campaigner speaking up about victims’ experiences of the court process. We urgently need to recognise how hostile our criminal and family justice system can be to vulnerable complainants and what can be done to change that.”

She continued:

“There are perilously low rates of convictions, 40% of rape complainants withdraw complaints and victims in the family court describe being re-traumatised by the system. Rather than dismissing concerns as ‘hyperbole’, I hope government ministers can utilise their time better than on Twitter and change the broken family and criminal justice system.”

Wolfson didn’t responded to our requests for comment.

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21 Comments

J

Special measures are there to protect the victim. Almost always, they are granted at the insistence of the witnesses wanting one. To turn this around and paint it as a disadvantage of some kind to the witnesses is misleading the public. She gets rightfully called out, and hides behind more rhetoric. In my view, 40% conviction rate is neither high nor low, it is the application of justice (as broken as it may be) on the values of what is evidentially provable. Complaining about 40% being low implies that the conviction rate should be higher given the nature of the offence, which undermines innocence before proven guilty. Fucking ridiculous

(79)(8)

Antiwoke

Hard agree

(25)(2)

Unsure why you’re so angry about this

Is the larger point not that the 40% pertains to the number of cases that are progressed to Court – far outweighed by the numbers of unreported, or uncharged instances of rape.

(8)(10)

Beba

Only 0.6% rape reports recorded by police are charged. So while that will include complainant withdrawals, others will be due to police and CSP not progressing. I am not sure if the 40% that Dr P cites includes withdrawals from report to post-charge, or just once the suspect has been charged. Would like to know.

(2)(0)

H

Her tweets are rarely accurate, but they keep her profile high and her face in the media

(52)(5)

A

The number of likes on this comment betrays the percentage of people still steeped in “the old ways” and unwilling to understand any lerspective but their own.

You try being a victim and see how this helps you.

We don’t prescribe adjustments to people. We get their input as to what they need. This like telling a blind person to go order audio books off the Internet and believing you’ve done them a solid without taking any of the practical difficulties that entails into consideration.

(1)(15)

KatyP

“40% of rape complainants withdraw complaints”.

That wasn’t the conviction rate so not sure why so many have misread that.

(3)(0)

Sara

Please site your proof on said “almost always” special measures introduced for victims.
Because I’m telling you, you’re wrong.

(0)(8)

CrimBo

It’s “cite”.

And 10 years of experience at the criminal Bar tells me that victims nearly always get Special Measures when asked for.

The bar is very low.
The test is simply that the quality of the witness’ evidence will will be improved by the grant of Special Measures.

(3)(0)

L

40% relates to the number of cases WITHDRAWN, and actually in 2020 this was 57%. Conviction rates are at an all time low, with just 1.4% of reported cases result in a charge. So any measures that improve the experience for victims should be listened to.

(5)(0)

Beba

The 40% is [according to the above] the number of alleged victims who withdraw from
The process. But only 0.6% of raped reported to the police are charged. So there is a big drop off from reporting, to charge, to conviction. That’s not reflective of a working CJS and I think Lord Wolfson would agree with that. I don’t think he is defending the system so much as wanting to be accurate.

I have never seen a rape trial, so I accept what the criminal barristers have said about how special measures are set up. However, I think it’s important to focus on what can be done to improve the experience of alleged victims. That’s where Dr Proudman is coming from.

I don’t think it helps rape victims do pit Lord Wolfson against Dr Proudman as though they are on
different sides. I know Domestic Abuse victims who speak very highly of the kindness he has shown to them.

What is harmful, sickening to watch and unhelpful to all users of the criminal justice system is the constant online bullying of Dr Proudman by judges, barristers and men’s rights activists. They need to understand how lay people, particularly sexual violence/abuse campaigners, regard their conduct.

(1)(7)

TruGru

An obvious but never ventilated solution would be to provide rape victims with the same professional witness ‘training’ that witnesses in big commercial cases receive as was provided to a friend of mine by a corporate co. that professionally ‘trains’ witnesses in commercial civil lit cases. I have defended and prosecuted over 100 rape trials and there is no doubt that many guilty defendants get acquitted due to the complaint being intimidated by the setting and by cross-examination. Proper and fair training and familiarisation would help greatly, I’m sure

(6)(2)

Duncan

“There are perilously low rates of convictions” so I guess every man is now guilty until proven innocent???

(9)(3)

Milly Tant

How dare a fair trial intervene between the accusation and the punishment. No doubt it is the patriarchy at work again.

(3)(0)

Real

“Proudperson seeks publicity with inaccurate Tweet”

(10)(1)

Junior Assistant to the Deputy Associate Advisor to the Third Undersecretary of State, Ministry of Love of Oceania

First time I’ve heard of this obscure junior minister.

(1)(4)

Gen Z representing

That’s what happens when your sole source of information is TikTok.

(3)(1)

Anonymous

She means alleged victims and alleged abusers.

(7)(1)

Bob

Complainant (just a witness) and accused man or defendant (a party who actually has a real significant stake in the trial)

(0)(0)

CrimBo

It’s “cite”.

And 10 years of experience at the criminal Bar tells me that victims nearly always get Special Measures when asked for.

The bar is very low.
The test is simply that the quality of the witness’ evidence will will be improved by the grant of Special Measures.

(1)(0)

Masteradvocatemates

Rule number 1 of good advocacy,

Don’t swear.

Fucking prick.

I end my submission accordingly.

(2)(0)

Comments are closed.

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