The aim of Salem Redux is to explore the criminal law landscape, prosecution policy, and advocacy practice relating to the investigation, prosecution and trial of alleged sex offences in England and Wales.
Sex offence allegations are currently a vastly conflicted area of public culture in the UK. It is hard to think of an area of civic concern more open to knee-jerk reaction, scapegoating and name-calling.
Driven in part by an increasing obsession with sex abuse issues, huge changes have for some years been taking place in the criminal justice system of England and Wales. Those changes have damaged the rule of law and have taken place without adequate public awareness of their deeper consequences. Juries now regularly struggle, in sex offence trials, to find the wood for the trees, and are often left confused and bemused by the task before them.
Strong feelings are naturally unavoidable when it comes to alleged acts against children and young people. Everyone wants to preserve our young people from harm. But to allow emotionality to drive swings in policy, without comprehensive open debate, will build problems for society and individuals which may take decades to rectify – if indeed rectification ever takes place.
There is therefore a pressing need to conduct a proper public debate on the following topics:-
- we need to discuss the corrosive effect on defendants’ rights of the last twenty years of government policy decisions regarding admissibility of evidence generally in criminal cases, but particularly in connection with the prosecution of alleged sex offences.
- we must identify and analyse the ideologies at work behind these policy decisions – both within the present government and the preceding one.
- we must speak honestly about the yo-yo mood swings in public and media about sex offences in response to high-profile acquittals (Michael Le Vell, Nigel Evans) and then convictions (Stuart Hall, Max Clifford, Rolf Harris). We must honestly address the issues which lie behind that pendulum effect, and the ways in which governments have responded to those mood swings.
- importantly, we must spot – and then critique – the prioritization (and almost canonization) of the ‘victim’ complainant  within the criminal law – because this ’victim’ mentality is leading to a gradual erosion of defendants’ rights and a growing adoption of ’conviction success’ ideology in the Crown Prosecution Service and police.
This is not in any way an anecdotal, existential or experiential blog. This blog tries to promote objective debate. Alongside that, it argues for an appreciation of the continuing value of centuries-old principles of criminal law in England and Wales, principles designed to balance justice with fairness.
Historically, English law has always argued that it is better, if it comes to it, to acquit a guilty person rather than convict an innocent one. That wise principle is now under attack as never before, and we must stop it from being further damaged.
The by-line to the blog, ”Judicial Barbarism?”, is taken from a Guardian Comment is Free article by Simon Jenkins dated July 8, 2014, in which he writes:-
The case for finding new ways of detecting and treating [child abusers] is overwhelming, as is the case for helping their victims. That is where the states money should go. Yet we deal with sex crimes by licensing anonymous accusers and staging celebrity show trials, with lawyers in gladiatorial legal combat before juries. From the attendant publicity, no reputation survives. It is judicial barbarism.
- We put ’victim’ in quotation marks because the matter is not as simple as it seems. Many complainants are no doubt telling the truth as they see it. Some are not. It is also arguable that, where a defendant is wrongly accused of a sex offence and is innocent, s/he is also a victim, if we are going to adopt that terminology. To speak of the ‘victim’ so readily can mask the real issues, which are about justice and fairness – for all. ↩