Sunday, April 1, 2018

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Standing With Her

Anthony McIntyre with more of his thoughts in the wake of the Belfast Rape Trial.

The Belfast Rape Trial outcome has provided much for the Sunday papers to mull over. If Paddy and the top shaggers thought the verdict brought the curtain down on the last two years of discomfort, they have been reminded that they are still very much on stage and that for many the 'facts' on the ground remain irreconcilable with the verdict of the jury.' They have taken to the streets to vent their dissent.

Yet it is hard to see how the jury could have reached any other verdict given the evidence placed before it. We are left with a legal fait accompli underwritten by the court determination that no rape took place in the bedroom of Paddy Jackson. The corollary of this is that there are no rapists and no rape victim.

For those of us who simultaneously and without contradiction are implacably opposed to both rape and trial without jury, the verdict of the jury is what must be stood with. Having long opposed both Diplock In Belfast and the Special Criminal Court in Dublin, it would be counterintuitive to abandon fidelity to jury trials in all circumstances outside of the accused electing to be tried by the judiciary.

In the Belfast rape trial there is nothing to show that evidence was withheld or suppressed. What evidence was available was placed before a jury who considered it for eight full weeks before reaching a swift verdict, the speed of which must again question both the probity and the prudence of the PSNI and PPS. With a woeful absence of prescience they failed to glimpse what was so strikingly salient to a jury. So obvious that deliberation and delivery took such a short period of time.

In a highly charged atmosphere where consent is the buzzword the question must be asked who in the PSNI and PPS give their consent to this trial ever going ahead? In the prolonged quest for women’s rights they have given the advantage to the rapist by amplifying a reluctance-cum-fear to testify.

Many women have been enraged by, if not the trial, then the backdrop to it. Yet the rage has produced more heat than light when it comes to addressing Lenin’s core strategic question: What Is To Be Done? Those taking to the streets to “stand with her” are not hitting the target. Protesting that the law is not fit for purpose blurs the focus. Making it even more unfit to the point that the accused is wholly at the mercy of the accuser, flies in the face of justice and equality before the law.

A raised awareness about consent would hardly have helped in the court case although it might have ensured there was never a case to be brought before the courts. Once in court it becomes the word of the accuser against the word of the accused. Calls for change in the law should be tempered with a uncompromising refusal to shift the onus of proof onto the accused: that they must prove their innocence rather than have their guilt proven. There can be no equivalent of Sharia Law in reverse where the word of the woman in such cases should weigh more than the word of the man. The anti-Sharia law campaign in the UK demanding one law for all can be instructive here.

Arguably, what needs changed is not the law but the societal matrix in which the law is enmeshed which gives rise to a broad assumption that a woman’s body is not her own. It does not suffice to maintain that this is a result of lad culture. The refusal to recognise autonomy over their own bodies is also to be found in the abortion debate with many still opposed to women making decisions; that somebody else can make choices for them regarding their bodies. Fruit for the monkey at the rapist's table where the sense of entitlement can only be enhanced by a culture that seeks to limit the application of consent: Hey sure, the law holds that her body is not really her own so I can have a piece of it too for a while.

Whatever we stand for or whoever we stand with, we should not be sitting down in the face of any sense of entitlement to make choices for women.


Anthony McIntyre blogs @ The Pensive Quill.

Follow Anthony McIntyre on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre      

7 comments :

Barry Gilheany said...

AM

Excellent piece. To be clear, I am mot disputing the verdict in a case which should never have come to court. The two privileged arsehole in the dock have been condemned in the court of civilised opinion and ethics by their Whats App messages.

Breandan Morley said...

Really good, balanced piece this, although the attempt to link it to the abortion referendum is rather fanciful - and that is not an indication of my voting intentions there.
I note that this evening the Telegraph is running the story that Alison Saunders, the CPS in England - who has prevailed over an endless stream of disastrous prosecutions derived from the doctrine that complainants are, by default, to be believed and conviction rates are to be driven up to meet Stakhanovite targets - is effectively being given her hat and coat and shown the door. Rightly so.
Amidst the emotion of the last week, it takes some courage to point out, as Anthony has done, that justice in this area won't be achieved by the conviction of innocent people. We cannot have a system of imprisonment by accusation.
In terms of a contested examination of evidence, the current system - certainly south of the border - is probably about as good as it gets. The North, however, could learn from our system down here, where there is anonymity for all parties until conviction and permanent anonymity for the complainant or victim (which may or may not be the same thing).
There is also a case to be made for such cases to be heard in camera, as is the case with family law courts.

AM said...

Breandan,

I see it as more speculative than fanciful.

The point being made is that how we think about consent is rooted in a wider societal context and not simply in lad culture.

I noticed a piece last year in the Guardian where the call was made for the woman alleging rape to be automatically believed. Why then even bother with a trial? We can shudder at the power that would give to the state to remove its critics.

Christopher Owens said...

AM,

the fact that we are now in an age where people are genuinely asking if consent can be withdrawn retroactively says a lot about the times. I have the feeling that some (not all, of course) people are unwilling to take responsibility for their own actions, and are happy to pass it off as someone else's fault (be it sex, alcohol consumption etc).

Henry JoY said...

We're all entitled to muse, speculate and associate; to attempt to identify forces and influences which contribute to outcomes.

I wonder if within the various nested pressures, that culminated in this futile prosecution, was there somewhere and significantly the hand of a feminist ideologue?

wolfe tone said...

Perhaps if the PSNI were a bit more robust in this case there may have been a different result? Tipping off the suspects(ringing Les Kiss) before the police made their move(house raids and arrests) was kind of strange was it not? Btw, not taking one of the suspects clothes as potential evidence, was neglectful to say the least and dare I say it, allowed the prosecution to cast doubt on the whole police investigation. Added to that I wouldn't rule out the possibility that the cops made sure their searches were as inconvenient as possible for the suspects; don't want to embarass the families in front of the neighbours and all that. Also, did the cops declare that they retrieved all the deleted text messages from their phones etc? If they didn't retrieve them then they certainly were not trying to convict I.e all messages deleted etc are easily retrieved by data experts.

Taking the above into account and also the tame effort by her prosecution barristers quizzing the defendants, lack of women on the jury, allowing 'strangers' give character references etc you'd be forgiven for thinking this case was determined from the start not to succeed and was purely pretending to go through the motions in order not to rile the parents of the girl. The film 'sleepers' comes to mind.

Christy Walsh said...

Wolfe tone

You haven't grasped too much of AM's balanced and thoughtful analysis. In addition, what evidence could the suspects clothes possibly produce? Even if they ripped their own clothes off or if there are any bodily fluids on them --does not mean a rape took place.

Unless the judge misdirected the jury the verdict is sound -even if it has divided public opinion. AM is right about the PPS and its handling of the case and deciding to prosecute -they are responsible for the whole mess --and doing more to discourage genuine victims coming forward in the future.

The PPS probably did pretend to go through the motions but for the opposite reasons as you suggest -they just did not want to be accused of dismissing a case because of the status of the accused. As AM has pointed out they could have and should have just said there was insufficient evidence to go forward --had they done that they would not have created such a mess for all the lives of those involved in the case.

There was no case beyond reasonable doubt sufficient to undermine the defendants presumption of innocence.

Your preference that the woman was a victim does not mean that she was -she may have just regretted what she did after the event --as people sometimes do after a night of drinking.