In this week’s discussion we look at how the Court of Appeal in the case of R. v SB [201801802 B2] dismissed a sexual abuse victim’s retraction of her allegations post-conviction as lacking credibility. We discuss the details of the case and the broader implications of the decision.
The victim had alleged that she had been sexually abused by her grandfather who was successfully prosecuted and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.
Following the sentence, the victim confided to her family that her allegations were false. She provided a statement to that effect that was then used by the grandfather in support of his appeal to the Court of Appeal on the basis that the verdict was unsafe.
The Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal. Readers might think this surprising but the judges came to the conclusion that the retraction of the allegations lacked credibility. They suspected very firmly that the victim had a misplaced sense of guilt, feeling responsible for her grandfather’s imprisonment, and may have been subjected to some familial pressure.
The decision is a refreshing one in the sense that the judges have looked at the reality of the consequences of child sexual abuse. Survivors often express feelings of shame and guilt for what took place. This is, of course, misplaced, but is common amongst survivors, and they often feel responsible for the fate of their abusers. The judges have clearly been conscious of what may go through a survivor’s mind post-trial and the pressures that they come under.
The case may have wider implications because a defense often deployed in both criminal and civil courts is that due to the nature of the case, the evidence is flawed possibly through the lack of witnesses and/or the passage of time. It will be said that memories fade, evidence gets lost, and witnesses are unreliable. It will be argued that a fair trial is impossible and a judge should not attempt to decide fault or otherwise. This case it could be argued says that judges should look at reality and take into account the nature of sexual abuse and come to a decision. The Limitation Act 1980 says that claims for compensation should be brought within 3 years of the abuse, or in the case of a child within 3 years of their 18thbirthday but because of the damage caused by the sexual abuse this is all too often impossible, and so the survivor has to try and persuade the court to allow the case to proceed out of time. Maybe the case of R v. SB will provide some power to the survivor’s elbow where the evidence is contradictory and at first blush apparently unsafe, and argue that the court should look at the bigger picture.