Judge Thomas Teague QC speaks out about a judge's role in dealing with rapists (From Warrington Guardian)
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Judge Thomas Teague QC speaks out about a judge's role in dealing with rapists
Judge Thomas Teague QC has been a part-time judge on the Cheshire circuit since 1993 becoming full time in July 2006 and is authorised to deal with sexual offences.
He speaks to the Warrington Guardian about a judge’s role in dealing with sexual offences.
How can the fall in conviction rates be addressed?>
“It is difficult to account for this in recent decades because the reasons are complex and quite a lot of potentially significant changes have occurred in public attitudes and the law.
“Up until several years ago a judge in a sexual allegations case was required to warn the jury of the dangers of convicting somebody without corroboration from an independent source.
“That requirement has now been abolished and more cases are being prosecuted. Mostly, only the two participants know what really happened so one rarely has independent evidence to back up what a complainant says.
“I’m not sure any specific measures can be undertaken to increase the conviction rate because of the fundamental principle in law of the burden of proof.
“The prosecution must prove the defendant’s guilt rather than the defendant prove his innocence so there will be cases where sufficient doubt arises for a jury to feel unable to say they are sure and therefore convict.
Do you think juries who are male dominated are less likely to convict?>
“No. Some people claim it is the other way around. I have never had a jury comprising only men or only women, although it has come quite close, and I have never been able to detect any consistent difference in the approaches of predominantly male or female juries.”
How hard is it to sentence defendants on guidelines?
“It is not difficult to sentence on guidelines. Sentencing guidelines are intended to help courts achieve consistency in sentencing and to avoid disparity between courts.
“I think guidelines have a valuable role to play but we have to remember each case is different and sexual crime in particular is an area where judicial discernment is very important.
“It is made clear in the guidelines relating to sexual offences that each case has to be approached on an individual basis and judges must not lose sight that it may be necessary to depart from them.”
Do you ever have an emotional conflict when giving defendants credit for pleading guilty and thereby reducing their sentence?>
“Judges must not allow their decisions to be swayed by emotional prejudice of any kind.
“That’s not to say we don’t have feelings but we learn through experience and training to put them on one side. We are rightly expected by the public to apply the law impartially and objectively.
“But there are good reasons for allowing credit for a guilty plea, especially in cases involving sexual allegations.
“Most importantly, an early guilty plea saves the victim a good deal of additional anguish and suffering. If a rapist admits his guilt promptly it means his victim knows early on she won’t have to relive her terrible ordeal in the witness box in front of a jury and have that prospect hanging over her for many months waiting for the trial.
“It is in the interests of victims that guilty defendants should have an incentive to admit what they have done as early as possible otherwise a defendantwill fight the case to the bitter end. A prompt guilty plea may provide some indication of genuine remorse.”
Are there different guidelines for different circumstances? Would someone who committed rape while drunk get a lesser sentence than someone sober?
“Different circumstances call for different approaches. Sentencing for sexual crimes is an area of law and practice in which the sentencing judge has to exercise considerable discernment.
”However, a man who commits rape while drunk will not receive a lesser sentence than someone who was sober.”
Do you think your sentencing powers are strong enough in terms of being able to sentence an offender for as long as you would like to?
“In terms of sexual offences, yes. The maximum penalty for such crimes has increased considerably in recent decades.
“Up until fairly recently, the maximum penalty for what was then called indecent assault on a woman was two years’ imprisonment.
“The current maximum for the same offence, which we now call sexual assault by touching, is 10 years and where the assault involves penetration, the maximum is now life.”
Has a rapist you have sentenced ever re-offended in your career?>
“Not to my knowledge. No-one can know for certain that it won’t ever happen although one hopes it never will.”
Is there anything a court can do to encourage victims to come forward and put themselves through a trial?>
“The courts have taken tremendous strides to seek to reduce the ordeal in giving evidence at a trial.
"However, many aspects of the process are outside the court’s control such as intrusive evidence-gathering methods like the medical examination.
“And the burden of proof means the accused must be able to challenge the prosecution case – to deprive that right would be tantamount to assuming his guilt.
“But recent improvements include special measures that enable the victim or other witnesses to give evidence without having to come into court, and then being cross-examined over a live link or from behind screens.
“Also, unrepresented defendants can no longer cross-examine the complainant in person.
“Thirdly, we also have special listing arrangements to try to avoid witnesses being kept hanging around the court.
“We must never think there is nothing further we can do.”
How often do you see men as complainants in sex offence cases?>
“Of adult complainants the overwhelming majority are women. It is very rare to come across an adult male complainant. Among child complainants girls predominate over boys.”
Have you seen any trends over the years in sexual offending?>
“Yes – the colossal increase in the use of pornography, particularly in relation to children.
“The internet has unfortunately made indecent and corrupting material more readily accessible.
“The most worrying aspect by far is the escalation in offences connected with indecent images and videos of children.
“There has also been an increase in adult pornography. Because it’s more readily available it is being used far more.
“All this material is potentially addictive and its effects have the potential to corrupt and deprave the person using it.”
How often do you see cases of stranger rape?>
"It is very rarely seen in practice. Most cases of rape in my experience involve offences committed against relatives, or within a relationship or between acquaintances. I did deal with a few cases of ‘stranger rape’ when I was a barrister, but in my time as a judge authorised to try such cases, I have not encountered a single example.”
And marital rape?>
“In my experience cases of marital rape rarely come before the courts. Cases of so-called relationship rape are much more common.
Do you ever disagree with a jury’s verdict? Is there anything you can do?>
“Occasionally a jury has reached a verdict I would not have reached but a jury’s decision is generally entirely understandable. I, as the judge sitting here on my own, haven’t had the advantages a jury has had of pooling their views and discussing it with other people.
“There have been few cases where I have strongly disagreed and, in those cases, quite rightly, there is nothing a judge can do.”
Do you think rehabilitation programmes in prisons work or do you think we need alternative measures?>
“It is said some of these programmes are effective in reducing the risk of re-offending but such things are difficult to establish and are usually done by looking at conviction rates over time.”
Is there anything that can be done to stop offenders re-offending?>
“There have been improvements in recent years in terms of new types of orders such as the Sexual Offences Prevention Orders, which can be quite specific and can be enforced by the courts quite effectively but they have to be monitored and there is a practical limit on what they can achieve.
“There is also the sex offenders’ register. Breaches of those requirements are taken seriously by courts and frequently result in prison sentences.
“I think it’s important to understand you cannot monitor every moment of what a particular person is doing.We must always be on the lookout for improvements but they have to be practical to enforce.”