Attorney General clarifies law on sexual assault

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The Court of Appeal has today agreed with the Attorney General, Rt Hon Suella Braverman QC MP, that it is not necessary in a sexual assault case for the prosecution to prove that the offender’s intent was sexual. The Attorney referred this case in her role as ‘Guardian of the Public Interest’.

The Attorney General asked the Court to clarify the law in this area after a defendant, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was found not guilty of a sexual assault for forcefully kissing a woman on the mouth.

During the trial, the prosecution argued that what happened to the victim was clearly both an “assault” and also “sexual” as it involved a forceable kiss on the victim. The defence said it was not “sexual” if the defendant did not intend it to be. The Judge agreed with the defence.

The Court of Appeal has now ruled that this is not the case – a sexual assault can be argued if the evidence supports it regardless of whether the defendant intended the assault to be sexual. This will provide clarity for future cases, although it will not affect the original case.

Commenting on the judgment the Attorney General said:

“In my role as Guardian of the Public Interest I argued that an assault did not need to be intended to be sexual to amount to sexual assault. I am pleased that the Court has agreed with me.”

“I welcome the Court of Appeal’s judgment which will provide greater clarity for future cases – especially for victims of sexual assault.”

Notes to Editors

  1. The Attorney General was acting independently of Government, in her role as ‘Guardian of the Public Interest’.

  2. The Attorney has the power to ask the Court of Appeal for clarification on important points of law in some cases where a defendant has been acquitted at trial – which means ‘found not guilty’. The Criminal Law Act 1972 provides the Attorney General with a power to refer a point of law to the Court of Appeal.

  3. The Court heard the Attorney General’s argument on 26 November.

  4. The underlying case involved an incident where the defendant forcefully and sloppily kissed a woman on the mouth. The victim pushed the defendant away. During the trial, the prosecution put forward the case that this was not just an assault, but a sexual assault given its circumstances and its perception by the victim.

  5. The defendant cannot be named for legal reasons.

  6. The ruling today will not change the original verdict, nor will there be a re-trial.

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