Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Must read article: Liars who cry rape strike at the heart of our justice system

Liars who cry rape strike at the heart of our justice system

By Richard O'haganLast updated at 2:00 PM on 22nd July 2009

Rape. It’s a hugely emotive issue, so let’s get the basic stuff out of the way first.

Rape and other sexual assaults are, without doubt, the second most heinous crimes on our statute book, ranking just behind those offences which result in actual death but well ahead of all the other assaults that can be perpetrated against an individual.

At the core of the justice system, which exists to punish those who commit crimes, is the expectation that victims will tell the truth about the things which have happened to them.

Lying subverts the whole process and, arguably, to lie in court is to commit a far worse offence than the one committed against you. Quite rightly, the courts are quick to punish those who lie to them – as Jonathan Aitken and Jeffrey Archer found out to their cost.

All of this makes it even more remarkable that anyone would want to falsely claim that they have been raped, yet such cases appear to be on the increase.

The conviction of Jennifer Day is just one of several cases this year - yet each case is apparently no deterrent to others.

One of the reasons for this may be the comparatively light sentences handed out to the accusers.

A man convicted falsely of rape faces a sentence of life imprisonment, whereas the false accuser’s jail term is unlikely to exceed the two years given to Ms Day. That is a heck of a discrepancy, whichever way you look at it.

The obvious answer is to make the punishment for lying about the offence akin to the punishment which the wrongfully accused would have faced if convicted of it.

This would bring lying into line with the law on criminal attempts; attempting to commit a crime and failing attracts exactly the same penalty as committing the crime in virtually all situations.

Would Ms Day – or any other woman convicted of the offence in the past – have done something quite so foolish if she had known it would lead to a potential life sentence?

As Judge Ian Graham rightly pointed out to Ms Day, lying about rape makes it that much more difficult for other rape victims to have their cases taken seriously and that much more difficult for prosecutors to secure convictions in even the most deserving of cases.

What he could have gone on to say is that liars strike at the very heart of our justice system. Judges now need proper powers to sentence them.