As jury deliberations into the Bill Cosby sexual assault trial enter a third day, one of the UK’s leading sexual offences lawyers, Nigel Richardson of London law firm, Hodge Jones & Allen, says the US system of dealing with victims has a long way to go before it achieves parity with the UK. He says:
“This is arguably the US’s biggest sexual offence trial but has shown a flawed justice system stacked against the claimant, and thankfully, rather different to that of the UK.
In quite extraordinary events during the trial, the complainant, Andrea Constand, and prosecution witnesses were subjected to a series of “rape myths” – widely held but unfounded assertions about rape. Common rape myths include that a woman would immediately report rape, that it would be obvious from her behaviour if she had been raped and that she had in some way “asked for it”.
Thanks, in part, to some hard lessons learnt over the past 10 years in the face of poor reporting and low conviction rates, rape myths are no longer tolerated by our courts and judges control overly aggressive cross-examination of complainants. Our approach is much more enlightened than that of the US.
Further, there is no statute of limitation on sexual crimes in the UK, unlike in many US states, where it is said in excess of 60 alleged victims of Crosby have been unable to bring charges because they are out of time.
One hopes that the American legal system will learn lessons from the way this trial has been conducted, not just in respect of the way that alleged victims are treated but also the way that media are allowed to act.
In relation to fairness to the defendant, the UK’s media is very strongly and successfully prevented from reporting prejudicial information prior to and during a trial with enforced blackouts. This is in complete contrast to what has happened in the US, with massive media speculation on the evidence before the trial and with even Cosby’s defence attorney grandstanding on the steps of court during the trial about evidence not presented at trial. I seem to remember former TV presenter Stuart Hall adopting a similarly combative tone to the press prior to his conviction, which only resulted in his eventual sentence being increased. It is no wonder that the jury has been sequestered hundreds of miles from home to shield it from the intense media scrutiny.
There can be no doubt that the UK has had to learn some hard lessons about the way alleged sexual assault victims are treated, it is now time for the US to do the same.”