What About When It Is Just Their Word Against Mine?
Clients in this situation will ask the question “how can I defend myself as it is their word against mine” which is often the case as seldom is there a witness to the alleged event or due to the age of the allegation potential witnesses may have died and documentary evidence may no longer be in existence.
If the case is of such an age that potential evidence has been lost then an application should be made that it is an abuse of process to proceed as the accused is prejudiced to such a degree that he or she cannot receive a fair trial. In lots of cases the application will be rejected by the court but it is always worth advancing the argument in appropriate cases.
It is essential that your lawyer seeks disclosure of records which often provide valuable evidence of what was going on in the life of the accuser at the time of the allegations. For example medical records, social service records, school records etc. Often these types of records reveal that the accuser has made no reference in the past to any allegations faced by the client.
Accusers will often say that the reason they didn’t complain at the time is because they were young and frightened and this is no doubt true in some cases. However disclosure of contemporaneous records often reveals that complaints were made against others at the time which fundamentally undermines the alleged victims account and is often the basis of significant cross examination.
Whilst a defence witness is unlikely to be able to state that no offence took place it is relevant if there are witnesses, who were perhaps children themselves at the time or allowed the accused contact with their own children, who are willing to give evidence as to character and how the accused behaved in their company these should be called; in most cases the accused is a person of good character.
The Crown are permitted to draft the Indictment giving dates which are often twelve months or more apart and this presents yet more problems as it is impossible to prove that you were in another place and serve notice of alibi. However if there have been significant events during the period in time, evidence of these should be sought. For example whilst he or she may not be able to give a specific date. They will often say thinks like it happened in a particular year in the summer and on a weekend.
All of the pieces information obtained by the lawyers from disclosure of records, family photograph albums, employment etc. are like pieces of a jigsaw and when a lawyer obtains and scrutinises this information it often paints a completely different picture to that painted by the prosecution.
If the complainant makes a specific complaint e.g. “it happened at granddad’s birthday at auntie’s house” your solicitors should be looking to try to find evidence that this event did not take place in the venue or at the time the complainant suggests. It may not prove conclusively that the allegation did not take place but it is likely to cast doubt upon the credibility of the complainant.
Despite the Criminal Procedure and Investigation Act and CPS and IPCC guidelines to the contrary investigations are often “complainant focussed” and officers will only look for evidence which supports their account and not what actually happened. They often don’t investigate all reasonable lines of enquiry, which they are required to do. It is vital that you ensure that you instruct solicitors who are experienced in dealing with these types of allegations.
Finally, it must be remembered that it is not for defendants to prove themselves innocent, the burden is upon the Crown to satisfy the Jury so that they are sure!
Louise Straw – Burton Copeland
Louise is the Managing Partner at Burton Copeland and has over 30 years experience in criminal law and specialises in serious criminal offences, particularly historic sexual allegations. To read more about Louise click here.