Letter: Duress a defence for jailed witness

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The Independent Online
Sir: The decision of a judge to jail a victim of violent crime because she was too terrified to testify in a case against her alleged assailant ("Woman jailed for contempt will appeal", 19 October) is plainly ridiculous. It is also legally questionable.

In an earlier case with strikingly similar facts - R v Hudson and Taylor [1971] 2 QB 202 - the Court of Appeal confirmed that duress is a defence to virtually all crimes. It is certainly a defence to a charge of contempt of court, for which Sarah Holt and another female witness were jailed last week. It should have been obvious to the trial judge that the silence of the women resulted from terror not from perversity or contempt.

Official figures released last month show that violent crime rose by 10 per cent to 331,000 offences in the year to June, the largest rise for eight years. Multifarious policies might feature in any intelligent discussion about how to deal with this social menace, but jailing intimidated victims is not among them.

Dr GARY SLAPPER

The Law School,

Staffordshire University

Stoke-on-Trent

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