Thursday, 15 February 2007

The Verdict

Ok, so the BBC's rape trial dramatisation concluded last night. The football player/selling the story angle was unnecessary and just muddled the case (if you buy their argument that what they were making was an informative documentary). The story is girls meet football players, go back to their room because they can't get food in the bar and have to order room service, one girl leaves and one of the footballers leaves, remaining girl alleges that she was then raped by remaining footballer, then by other footballer returning, and by unnamed third man. Friend of girl tapes her talking about the rape and sells it to a newspaper.

The jurors themselves were a motley crew, Archer, convicted felon, ex-football player Collymore, admitted domestic violence, and advocate of dogging (odd sexual behaviour), Megaman, eventually acquited of inciting his mate to murder someone (the mate went to prison for said murder), Sara Payne whose daughter was abducted and murdered.

I really have to ask just how stupid is Jeffrey Archer? I'd always know he ws a fantasist but the drawling way he delivered his pseudo-profound points was breathtaking. Portillo managed to come out of it better than the rest, it was probably only his IQ keeping them in double figures, the guy from Blur and the entrepeneur also seemed ok.

Megaman and Collymore were never going to convict, probably whatever the evidence, the former because he had been tried three times before being acquitted, and the latter for such great reasons as "footballers are always being accused of rape, but it never comes to court, therefore they don't rape", and "only 5% of rapes are convicted, therefore..." Collymore spent the entire case (ably assisted by Megaman), acting as the defence's representative on the jury, dismissing all evidence and barracking anyone who disagreed with him. I'm told that it is common to have one jurer who refuses to believe in the guilt of anyone, and sometimes another who thinks everyone is guilty, whatever the evidence. Not sure there was a representative of the second group. Collymore and Megaman showed that amusing characteristic people have that when they believe something they think that all evidence supports them and cannot understand that there can be alternative interpretations. There was also some usual "wouldn't have happened to me" type reasoning from a female jury member (think she was in a soap).

The victim having been showed to be lying about being a virgin was also further water muddying and I was surprised by the way the barristers were able to make unsubstantiated claims and insinuations without backing them up ("isn't it always the convent girl types..." was a great line, of course if she'd had a more colourful sexual history that'd also damn her - doesn't seem like there is a woman you can rape without it being her fault). The substance of the arguments, both by the barristers, and in the jury's deliberations, consisted of making up stories, narratives that make sense of the facts available, I guess that's the law for you, very postmodern. The lack of forensic input was disturbing when a fair bit came down to questions of physical injury, and even down to arguments over interpretation of the injuries - you'd think they'd be able to get a pathologist into court with some hard figures.

As to my impressions of the case, there was physical evidence consistent with and suggestive of the allegation, the allegation was plausible, the defendants' stories were inconsistent, I think I'd go for a conviction. But the jury went the other way, essentially their burden of proof cannot be passed unless there is an independent eye witness or admission of guilt. Much was made of the unique nature of rape, where the requirements of reasonable doubt are tested to the extreme: "it is his word against hers". I'm not sure I'm convinced by that reasoning, why isn't theft thought of like that? "Oh, she just gave it to me guvner", it seems to me that the burden of proof has been shifted somehow in raoe trials, and listening to the jurors, that would seem to be their impression, that the woman has to "prove" that the man raped her.

Anyone can concoct a scenario roughly consistent with the facts of the case (see the rough sex defence in "Consent"!) so essentially no rape case can ever be beyond reasonable doubt or "be certain" (which I think was the wording used by the judge, actually harsher than reasonable doubt in my opinion) because there will always be a story given by the defence that could be true. In this case the story wasn't concocted until after the arrest, and after the defendant denied sex at all initially.

Scarily Archer was on the convict side, but then when it went to 9:3 he changed his mind allowing a 10:2 not guilty verdict. But Archer was mostly revelling in the attention and I'm not sure how genuine his belief was (and if it was his belief how valid his change of heart was - to spare the two men another trial despite believing that she was raped by them). The other two guilty verdicts were from two of the more normal individuals Jacqueline Gold (Ann Summers Chief Exec) and 'entrepeneur' Dominic McVey.

As with "Consent" I'm not sure anyone learned anything, and it was a rather unedifying spectacle watching the celebs laughing away during the trial (although they did seem to take it seriously most of the time). Sadly I can see why many women say they wouldn't report a rape - currently it seems to be almost impossible to meet the standard of evidence set by British juries, and at least some of that seems to be due to the assumption that women consent to sex with anyone unless proven otherwise.

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