Alison Saunders (1)

Too many victims of abuse have been denied justice in the past because they were either not believed when they reported the crime or because it was assumed they would not be believed in the courtroom, which in turn led to victims not reporting offences at all.

This allowed offenders to escape any consequences and ultimately undermined public confidence in the ability of the criminal justice system to respond to sexual abuse – as illustrated by the Jimmy Savile scandal.

The attitude of prosecutors, police officers and society as a whole had to change; and the old myths and stereotypes that kept suspects out of court had to be tackled. We have risen to this challenge. For example, the outdated belief that a woman’s clothing could be partially blamed for an offence, or that her lifestyle may have invited an attack are, thankfully, no longer valid considerations. But I do not want to see new myths replace the old.

Prosecutions for sexual abuse – whether recent or not, whether involving high-profile individuals or not – are being brought more regularly and more successfully than ever before. It would be a huge disservice and injustice to victims if any of this work were to be undone as a result of a small number of properly brought cases in which a jury acquits.

I understand – and welcome – scrutiny of the criminal justice process, but the belief that an acquittal means the decision to prosecute was flawed is wrong.

The role of the prosecutor is to consider whether there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction – in other words, whether we think it is more likely than not that a jury would convict. We always apply this standard and any case that falls short will not be prosecuted, but we should, and do, prosecute when the evidence is there. A jury must be sure of guilt and so it follows that they will sometimes properly acquit.

Not being certain of a conviction is not a reason to avoid bringing a case to court and I don’t think the public would want, or benefit from, such a risk-averse public prosecutor. We are aware of the difficulties with successfully prosecuting sexual offences. Neither prosecutors nor juries will always have conclusive forensic or third party evidence to rely on.

The nature of these crimes means that the accounts given by the complainant and suspect are often the only matters in dispute – and the case comes down to the issue of consent. When we assess this evidence, we must put aside preconceptions and focus on what is being said, not who is saying it. It is right that the trial is the venue for testing this evidence and that the finding of facts is a job for the jury. Of course, we know this can be a difficult experience for victims and we will always support them.

In February, I announced new legal guidance in relation to the public interest in prosecuting cases where a nominal penalty is likely to be passed, often because an offender has been prosecuted and sentenced for similar offending previously. I believe this shift in approach is necessary, not only for new complainants bravely coming forward for the first time, but also because we are seeing cases coming forward for review, where the allegations relate to offending some years ago.

I believe that we are performing our role in this process properly and the CPS will continue with its improved approach to complaints of sexual abuse. I will continue supporting victims and bringing prosecutions when the evidence is there. We are now regularly seeing convictions for offences decades after the event. We should be proud of this remarkable change for the better.
This article first appeared on the Justice Gap on May 30 2015

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Profile photo of Alison Saunders About Alison Saunders
Alison is the Director of Public Prosecutions. Alison, a barrister, joined the CPS in 1986, the year of its formation. As DPP, Alison is responsible for prosecutions, legal issues and criminal justice policy

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  • Mrs Clark January 22, 2016 7:56 am

    I am outraged at this woman’s comments. What gives her the rite to take away the presumption of innocence from our courts. Her salary of £600,000 per annum is a disgrace. The cps should be there to prosecute real crime. The waste of public funds being spent on HSA cases without any corroborated evidence is outrageous. It seems this country can’t afford to pay a decent pension to people who have worked hard all their lives yet this woman can authorise Trials to convict innocent people without a shred of evidence just because her prosecution lawyers can persuade a jury. Not hard these days with the back up of witch hunt stories in the newspapers. There are 000s of innocent people sitting in cells because of her disgraceful actions. Many many families have been destroyed and are in trauma. I hope she has a conscience. Grandparents, parents, grandchildren and children all in trauma. Not allowed to appeal as new Evidence is required yet evidence was not required at a trial. Evidence matters… So dies presumption of innocence. She has stolen the childhood of many children. Stealing the lives of their grandparents. She is responsible for the destruction of society. His dare she make these comments and decisions. There us not an ounce of truth in any if them.

  • George Skelly January 23, 2016 1:30 am

    Sorry Jon, but I have to disagree with you on this one. The recent failures of the Met’s investigations into “Nick’s” allegations against Leon Brittain, Lord Bramhall, Harvey Procter etc, clearly demonstrate the grave risks to justice of the police trying to investigate so-called historic sexual abuse cases. By definition actual independent evidence and corroboration will be hard to locate after such long passages of time. And the effect on the accused, as has already been demonstrated, be disastrous.i.e. how does one defend oneself against accusations of crimes allegedly committed 30, 40 , sometimes 50 years ago? I must also disagree with your terminology of “victims” in relation to the accusers or complainants. They are not victims until a court of law has decided that their allegations have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt and the perpetrator punished accordingly. Moreover your use of the phrase seems to ignore one of the basic tenets of justice, namely that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty. In both contexts, I would suggest that it is quite wrong to refer misleadingly to complainants as “victims”. It is also quite wrong, for the same reasons, for the police to assert before any trial or even charge or arrest is made, to state, as the Met’s Supt McDonald has done, that they believe the complainants accusation to be true.
    George Skelly.
    Author: The Cameo Conspiracy (3rd ed. Waterside Press 2011)
    Murderers Or Martyrs (Waterside Press 2013.

  • George Skelly January 23, 2016 1:40 am

    I must sincerely apologise to Jon Robbins for mistakenly attributing the artice by Alison Saunders to him. I would say however that my comments apply even moreso to the Crown Prosecution Service under the directorship of Ms Saunders, a lady who has conspicuously not enjoyed the most distinguished track record since being appointed to the post.

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