Editorial: Witnesses are not on trial

Our adversarial system has long been known to deter victims from coming forward

Share
Related Topics

The shocking case of Frances Andrade, who committed suicide after giving evidence in the trial of her former teacher, in which he was found guilty of indecently assaulting her in her youth, once again demands that we look at how such allegations are treated by the criminal justice system.

We learn of this terrible case as women and men around the world prepare to demand an end to violence against women in the One Billion Rising campaign this week, on which we report today.

This is a subject close to the heart of The Independent on Sunday. Our Christmas Appeal was for Refuge, the national domestic violence charity, and we have long publicised efforts by women to improve the reporting of rape and the bringing to justice of rapists.

The Andrade case is a terrible reminder of the lasting damage that sexual assault can do. It is also, however, a warning against undue pressure to prosecute. Mrs Andrade was a reluctant witness, brought to court because she confided in a friend who, most people would say quite rightly, went to the police. The friend knew that Michael Brewer, Mrs Andrade's abuser, was still working with children.

But Mrs Andrade regretted her decision to give evidence and was hurt by her cross-examination. Our adversarial court system has long been recognised as deterring victims from coming forward, although allegations have to be tested to protect people wrongly accused of such crimes.

Thus attitudes towards rape allegations have changed in recent decades. Police forces handle allegations better than they used to, and court procedures have been changed. Apart from anonymity for alleged victims, there are now rules designed to limit aggressive cross-examination. In the Andrade case, the judge said that the cross-examination – by a female barrister – had been "exemplary".

All the same, the trial was such a disturbing experience for Mrs Andrade that it seems to have at least contributed to her taking her life. Despite the progress that has been made in supporting witnesses, it can come as a shock for even well-supported victims to face questions designed to undermine their credibility. Noreen Tehrani, a psychologist who works with police forces, said last week that the "frenzy" over Jimmy Savile and other cases might put pressure other reluctant witnesses to testify. "I am very worried that some vulnerable victims will be lured into the courts and then shocked to find that they are not believed."

That is why we should be wary of politicians who pretend to have easy answers to the problem of how to bring more rapists to justice. As we report today, Chris Grayling, the Justice Secretary, managed to please no one by suggesting last week that a caution "may be the only way to get something on the record" about a rapist if the victim is "absolutely unwilling to give evidence". That would seem both to belittle the offence and to lower the burden of proof.

The way forward, and the true lesson of the Andrade case, must be that the victims of sexual assault need more support. She certainly seems to have felt unsupported in giving evidence. We should look at some of the techniques used with child witnesses for testing the truth of allegations that minimise the potential trauma of traditional cross-examination.

Ending violence against women is an ambitious goal that requires all policies to be approached with an open mind.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia  

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Oliver Poole
Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup