May 6 2000
Judge in attack on rape law proposalBY MICHAEL HARVEY
A JUDGE yesterday condemned planned changes to rape laws aimed at bringing more sex offenders to justice.
John Roberts, QC, the Recorder, said at the Old Bailey that proposals that those charged with rape would have to prove their accuser had freely consented would be a "disaster". The changes almost completely reverse the traditional burden of proof, where the Crown rather than the defence has to prove its case.
The judge made the remarks after Donovan Heron, 19, was cleared of rape, at the Old Bailey. A 17-year-old girl had claimed that Mr Heron attacked her at a party in Brockley, southeast London, after she had been drinking. The court heard that she was not used to alcohol and was helped to bed by Mr Heron.
It was claimed that Mr Heron had taken the chance to rape her and that she had rushed from the room screaming: "He took my virginity. I didn't want him to." After his arrest Mr Heron maintained that the girl had consented to sex .
After deliberating for 2½ hours, the jury acquitted Mr Heron of rape.
The judge told the jury: "It is very difficult when it is one person's word against another. Some politicians say this should be changed and that the burden should be on the defendant to prove that the girl was consenting, but there are many of us who think that would be a disaster and that it would lead to many men being sent to prison for something they did not do, having been put into the situation of having to prove their innocence."
At present, fewer than 10 per cent of those accused of rape are convicted. Ministers are considering a report by officials containing the proposals.
Copyright 2000, Times Newspapers Ltd.