Here in Britain we're used to the notion that our legal system has long ensured that everyone is entitled to a 'fair' trial, ultimately being judged by 12 other citizens. This jury is instructed to only come to a guilty verdict that is 'beyond reasonable doubt' and for that to happen the evidence has to be closely examined and tested in an adversarial manner.
This system has served us reasonably well, but in cases such as rape or sexual abuse it's long been recognised that 'special measures' are required in relation to how the victim is treated by the process. All this has been brought into sharp focus recently by the absolutely tragic case of Frances Andrade who it appears took her own life shortly after giving evidence against Michael Brewer, now convicted of several historic counts of indecent assault upon her.
Quite understandably everyone involved in the case will be in the process of reflecting upon their actions and naturally observers in some quarters are wishing to apportion blame. As the Defence Brief says in his post on the subject today:-
"Why do we use this system? Because, only through challenging a witness can you test their evidence, assess the reliability of their account and judge their honesty. This is because sometimes their evidence may be completely honest and accurate from their point of view but it may not stand up to scrutiny because they made a mistake. Sometimes the witness may be actively lying. Sometimes they may have been forced to give evidence in court. We just don't know... until and unless we test the evidence!"
Obviously it has to be done with care, and I'm sure it was, but sadly it seems as if in this case the victim found it unbearable that she felt that she wasn't being believed. Some counts against Brewer were dismissed and she clearly took this as the court feeling that she had been lying. It's understandable, but so sad. With hindsight I suspect more care could possibly have been taken in preparing this woman for the cold, often bruising court process, together with de-briefing and reassurance following the dismissal of some charges.
I understand this complainant had been waiting two years for the case to come to court and during that time had been showing considerable signs of distress. I have to say that I find it shocking that it appears the advice from the police was not to seek professional counselling until after the trial.
There is bound to be an inquiry following this sad case, not least because the Home Secretary Theresa May is concerned that it will adversely affect the willingness of complainants to come forward in the future. I entirely agree and I sincerely hope that the misguided police advice was given over a concern that the victim's evidence might somehow be 'tainted', rather than the shocking and cynical thought that conviction would be more likely if the jury saw a more distraught complainant.
In the end though the blame must lie fairly and squarely upon the perpetrator. If ever there was a case that confirms beyond doubt the potentially devastating effect sex offending can have upon a person's life, this it.