At Mary Monson Solicitors we have a specialist sexual offences team with experience in rape allegations going back more than 30 years. We understand the trauma that the client faces, and also the toll that this can have on the family. Our rape solicitors show a practical and non-judgmental approach to the defence of our clients, and our presumption is that our client is innocent until proven guilty.
We have included a brief guide to the law on rape below, and a case study of a client we have recently defended. This information may be useful, but it is not the same as proper legal advice. If you or a family member have been arrested or charged with rape, contact us.
Our rape solicitors' case studies
Any lawyer can claim to have expertise in different types of criminal case. We have included here some case studies to give some idea of how we prepare our cases.
Our client was a computer systems architect for a major UK bank. He had been accused by a woman he had met on a night out with friends of forcing her to have sex with him when they had gone to her car after being in a nightclub. He consistently claimed that the sex was consensual. In fact, a request by our firm for disclosure from the police showed that the woman had been wearing an all in one body stocking which was undamaged. Under skillful cross-examination by a barrister we instructed, she eventually accepted that she had in fact carefully removed the body stocking herself. This was not consistent with the violence she had reported in her initial statement.
Verdict: Not guilty
Rape - The Law Explained
Rape is covered by section 1 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. It can be committed by a man on a woman or a man on another man. It consists of vaginal, anal or oral intercourse which is non-consensual.
It must be intentional. For a person to be guilty, he must not have believed that the other person consented, and this belief must have been reasonable. This means that an ordinary person at the time would generally agree that the person had consented. A jury would consider the situation as it happened at the time, also taking into account whether any steps had been taken to find out whether the other person was consenting. This may seem bizarre, given that action and not words are more important in sexual communication, and asking for permission is generally a fairly uncommon occurrence.
If somebody freezes in shock or panics but doesn't actively object, they may still be regarded in law as having not consented. The law doesn't require that somebody puts up a physical or verbal fight. No violence has to be used for it to be rape. The point is that the jury will look at the total situation and whether the person freely agreed or not.
If violence was used or threatened against the victim or another person, then the starting point will be that the sex was not consensual. A court will start from the position that there was no consent if the victim was held captive, asleep, unconscious, drugged or incapable of communicating because of a disability.
There is also a starting point that there was no consent if a person was deceived into having sex by impersonating someone the person would have had sex with. This might occur, for example, if a burglar pretends to be the husband of a woman in the house.
Procedure and Sentences For Rape
A rape case will always be dealt with in the Crown Court. The maximum sentence for rape is life imprisonment, but a rape without violence or kidnapping might typically attract a sentence of five years if convicted after a trial. Sentences of more than this are reserved for much more serious cases.
The Police Interview and Having a Solicitor
It is unfortunate that many people accused of a criminal offence, and this goes particularly for sexual offences, decline their right to a rape solicitor at the police station. The reason is nearly always because they don't want to appear obstructive when they have nothing to hide. This is a mistake. The officers who investigate sexual offences usually have highly specialist training, and their approach is often not as open minded as at first is suggested. A suspect going into the police station in good faith will often find him or herself outmanoeuvred by these expert officers, who are focused on getting inconsistencies on record and evidence to use in a prosecution, not necessarily getting to the truth of what happened.
Should a person answer questions in interview?
It is also worth bearing in mind, that despite what most clients who have never been in trouble before usually believe, it is not always the best policy to answer questions. The police sadly often hold back key disclosure in order to catch their suspect out, rather than being open beforehand. If there is a fair playing field where officers are open and lay their cards on the table then there is a better argument for answering questions, but this is rare. If it is necessary to put a rebuttal to the charge on file, the best approach is often to make a limited prepared statement making the points that are necessary to make the defence's position clear, but not getting bogged down in the mind games and questioning traps which a police officer may have in store if allowed to question the client in open interview.
A specialist rape solicitor with experience in rape allegations and sexual offences will also be very careful about advising the client to advance any account at interview if there are still forensic results which are yet to come back from the investigation.
Strategy in Rape Cases
There is no defence strategy that is effective in every rape case. But there are certain areas that a rape solicitor will immediately explore. They include the following:
This can take the form of medical forensic evidence which the prosecution lawyers say proves that sexual or physical contact took place. For example, this may be DNA obtained from skin cells or bodily fluids. It is foolish to accept what the prosecution says on this front if the defendant has denied all contact without the defence getting a full independent forensic report.
Telephone and email evidence
Communication between the alleged victim and the defendant is often of some importance, and should be considered closely by the defence team and the client together. Sometimes texts or emails can be misinterpreted, and only the client will be able to give the full content.
Was the sexual relationship consensual?
If a rape or sexual assault allegation is made, the issue of consent is something which is often an important issue in the preparation of the defence case. The evidence that the prosecution has served needs to be looked at in detail by the rape solicitors together with the client. Evidence which points towards violence is not of course always conclusive, as sex can take many forms. If the client claims that the sex was consensual, a jury would usually expect that this would be something that he would have mentioned in interview. In some circumstances, perhaps because so much time has passed that the client doesn't even remember the incident at first, or because the client was in no fit state to give any comment in interview, a jury will likely be more understanding if the defence of consent isn't raised until some time after the interview.
The Background, Behaviour, and Actions After the Event of the Complainant
An analysis by the defence of the complainant is essential if victory in the case is to be possible. That said, simply trying to do a hatchet job and discredit the complainant can be a very foolish approach to the jury. Researching and understanding the background, behaviour and response to the alleged attack of the person making the complaint is essential. Inconsistencies in the story given by the complainant to different people after the event, any other background of other allegations made in the past, and behaviour on the date in question must all be considered. That said, the jury will take the view that a man or woman making a complaint has a right to a private and sexual life, and points attacking credibility must be carefully considered before being used as part of the defence case.
The Choice of Advocate
The choice of advocate in a rape or sexual assault case is of great importance. There are special rules of evidence which allow certain types of questioning and not other types. The whole psychological approach that the advocate needs to take is also quite different to the one required in a more straightforward case, such as a serious assault outside a public house. That said, there will always be a need for tenacity and a focus on the only verdict that matters - an acquittal.
We have tried to outline some of the main strategic and legal background in rape cases. It can't take the place of advice from a rape solicitor. If you or a family member are worried about an investigation or prosecution for an offence of rape, contact us.