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Penney Lewis's Thoughts for the Parliamentary Justice Committee

Professor Lewis, Law Commissioner for criminal law.

On June 26th 2023 the Justice Committee sat at the House of Commons to hear evidence on the treatment of sexual allegations in the UK.

Under specific scrutiny was Section 28 of the 2003 Criminal Justice Act, which allows complainants to have their cross-examination video recorded before the full trial, away from the court room. This evidence is then played during the live trial, which, in most cases, means the complainant does not need to attend in person.

Veteran justice campaigner Sir Bob Neill MP was chairing, and heard presentations from legal academic Cheryl Thomas, Mary Prior KC and legal specialist Penney Lewis amongst others. Mary Prior's input was unusual in referring to untried 'victims' and 'perpetrators' early in her in contributions, but pivoting to the more accurate 'complainants' and 'defendants' later.

This kind of language mixing seems to be increasingly common in debates over sexual politics and legal processes. Little differentiation was made between adult and child in any deliberations, leading to the impression that all sexual allegations somehow involved children, when it was in fact all RASSO (rape and serious sexual assault) cases being discussed.

Part of Section 28 includes the use of pre-recorded video testimony to enable complainants to feel less intimidated by the trial process, with Prior raising concerns that it could feel as if the complainant were barely part of the trial, while the defendant was 'always there'. She also expressed concern that the very existence of S28 could be used an an excuse to delay trials, even more than the seven-month to two-year gaps currently seen.

Cheryl Thomas, while displaying an admirable desire to be led by 'the evidence', had no statistics to report on whether the S28 changes had increased or decreased rape allegation convictions. She did however confirm the figure of 65-70% actual convictions when allegations meet the necessary CPS bar to go to trial – a figure indicated elsewhere by Paula Wright and Patrick Graham, justice reform specialists often driven to distraction by perpetually weaponised reported statistics.

Lead of sexual allegation quangos various, Canadian Penney Lewis declared that 'Women are the particular concern of this project', raising questions of bias and impartiality in the leadership, before also announcing that disclosure (the subject which deposed ex Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders after the Liam Allan scandal in 2018) would become a judicial rather than prosecution responsibility.

This judicial responsibility would presumably be informed by an obligation to direct based on theoretical 'rape myths' - a topic that did receive some MP scrutiny, before being swerved after Lewis offered: 'I think that the evidence that there are rape myths is incontrovertible' and that her intention was to 'prevent the contamination of the trial process from rape myths'.

The 'good work' of Operation Soteria was mentioned, a project closely affiliated with Lewis' countrywoman Betsy Stanko, also an alumni of Toronto, MIT, UCL, Kings etc. – without a mention of the 1,400 wrongful convictions per year acknowledged by DPP Max Hill, or the 15,000 prisoners maintaining some degree of innocence at any given time in UK prisons. The plans of the Law Commission – never mind today the 'deceit sex' proposals of the Criminal Reform Law Network – are presented as essentially fait accompli, obvious to all.

Thankfully a timely article by Dr Michael Naughton, Empowering the Innocent lead, was published by the Bristol Law School at the same time as the committee meeting, shedding some light on what the inversion of the innocence until proven guilt principle actually means.

By Sean Bw Parker

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