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WOMENS WORDS

Never Her Fault

The following account, written by a WRN member, draws attention to a one-woman campaign by a determined and courageous mum who is on a mission to raise awareness about the shameful treatment of her daughter during a rape trial court hearing. Read on for an introduction to the story of Victoria (not her real name) and her daughter, and why she feels compelled to protest outside Crown Court buildings. 

  

By Sharon Stanfield


I met Victoria on a cold and wet Wednesday morning in March. As I crossed the road outside Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court, the first sight of her was a bright yellow flag with 'Hold judges to account like all other professionals". The flag is to shed light on the way judges are not held accountable for their case management. I, probably like many of you, was unaware of this.


Sharon (left) joined Victoria (right) to protest outside Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court


In Victoria's own words, she explained to me why she's protesting outside every crown court in England.

 

"The way my daughter was treated as a witness in a rape case was heartbreaking. Her experience badly affected her mental health for some months after. So much was wrong. The judge let the defence barrister bully her.”

 

“That’s why judges HAVE to be accountable for their case management”.

 

“That’s why I am protesting outside every Crown Court in England this year."

 

Victoria’s daughter was aggressively cross-examined by the defence on her previous sexual behaviour. The judge knew that this should not have been allowed to continue; however, he did not intervene.

 

These are the first 3 questions Victoria's daughter was asked at the trial:

 

-After your marriage broke down after 15 years you joined ‘Bumble’?

-You joined ‘Match’?

-You joined ‘Tinder’?

 

These are the FIRST three questions. And yes, she was on them. This was 4 years before she met the perpetrator! 

 

Why is this relevant? How is this relevant? Is a single woman not allowed on internet dating sites now? Or if she is on them does that give a man the right to rape her?

 

The judge did nothing, and this is why they must be accountable. Rape myths have no place in court. It's beyond belief this still happens, none of it was relevant to the case.

 

Of course the judiciary know the cost of court transcripts is so high that few complainants can afford to pay for them. To get a copy of the court transcript and find out exactly what the defence barrister said to her daughter, Victoria knew she would have to pay. It was going to cost her £22,000 although she managed to get it down to £2,000. And when she applied to get the cross-examination transcript, the secretary said the judge was worried about spending so much money on it! Perhaps he was more worried about what she would read. They really don't want them released.

 

The more Victoria told me, the more I was shocked and saddened. The way rape victims are treated and the lack of care by the courts is shameful.

 

Since I walked outside Stoke-on-Trent Crown Court with Victoria, I have followed her crusade. She's been met with aggressive security, been called names, told to delete information from her phone and the odd paedophile introduced himself (you couldn't make it up). She's also been met with support, kind court staff and women who are with her every step of the way.

 

I left Victoria a little early as she was doing an interview with a journalist. I promised I would keep in touch and attend further protests. I hope the word spreads so that when she completes her quest on 6th and 7th November in London she will have an army of supporters, I'll be at both.

 

The defendant was convicted, that's all I want to say about him.

 

Please follow Victoria on X @DollyScoobs and show her she has our support.



Victoria and her distinctive banner outside Derby Crown Court


Who judges the judge?

By Faye McGinty


Two of the issues Sharon writes about above are topics that have recently been in the news: aggressive cross examination and sky high costs for transcripts.


Ellie Wilson is another woman who was subjected to traumatising cross-examination during her rape trial in Glasgow in 2022. She recently had a complaint against the defence lawyer upheld by the Faculty of Advocates. It was accepted that the defence lawyer had “repeatedly crossed the line” even though the judge intervened on a number of occasions.



The costs charged by the Courts when complainants ask for copies of court transcripts is scandalous, particularly as it is within the courts gift to waive these fees. The Times reports that a private company is responsible for producing transcripts, which has cost the mother of a sexual abuse victim £6,534 for a nine-day trial.

 

We contacted Victoria to find out a bit more about the campaign and how harassment by the defence barrister in court immediately affected her daughter and the impact on her life now. A warning – you may find the following upsetting.

 

-So Victoria, the story of how your daughter was treated in court is shocking. Can you tell us how this affected her at the time, and how she is now?

 

My daughter wasn’t warned that the judge had awarded an s41 to the defence barrister. She had no idea of the ferocity of the questioning. She went into shock. Twice she collapsed on the floor in the corridor outside the courtroom. She phoned me at lunchtime on the first day of being on the stand. She was hysterical. When I picked her up that afternoon she was shaking and crying. She scarcely spoke that evening. After the second day of questioning she was crying and then frighteningly silent. For about five months after I was on suicide watch. She didn’t want to be here anymore. 

 

Now she is very up and down emotionally. She has had therapy to come to terms with the way she was treated by the perpetrator and that has worked well. However her nightmares, flashbacks and depression remain because of the abuse she was subjected to by the defence barrister. She is working on this. She’s no longer the happy carefree person she was but I think she is starting to see a future especially as I am going to complain about the barrister and hopefully win the case just like Ellie Wilson did. Ellie is helping me with this.

 

-What are the rules on cross-examination of complainants in rape cases? Can you explain a bit more about the guidelines that defence barristers and judges should follow in rape cases.

 

I believe the previous history of a rape complainant should not be brought up at all, although it often is. The defence can apply to the judge to get a s41 which slightly changes things. The s41 means that previous sexual history CAN be discussed but only with relevance to the case. This is obviously open to interpretation by the barrister and the judge.

 

‘ the evidence must relate to a specific instance and nothing general is allowed’

 

‘no evidence or issue shall be regarded as relating to a relevant issue if the primary purpose is to impugn the credibility of the complainant’

 

My daughter wasn’t told that a s41 had been granted. That is totally against the code of conduct of the judiciary. She had no idea what was going to happen. Had she known she would have been shocked but not gone into shock. Two very different scenarios.

 

Also she should have been told that she didn’t have to answer any question she believed to be irrelevant unless the judge agreed that she should. The judiciary are bound by rules of ethics and morals as well as by the law.

 

The prosecuting barrister didn’t give my daughter the chance to give her side of the story as he thought she was too distressed to continue. HE SHOULD HAVE ASKED HER!

 

-Have you been able to hold the judge accountable in this case?

 

I complained about the judge allowing irrelevant questioning way outside the scope of the s41. The judge can only be criticised for personal behaviour in court e.g. being drunk, falling asleep etc. Their case management cannot be scrutinised at all. They can be taken to a higher court at great expense and the case then is judged by judges.

 

That’s why I believe it’s so important that judges should be held to account. They are human. They err like everyone else.

 

-What changes would you like to see after what your daughter went through in court?

 

I believe every rape complainant should have a legal advocate who guides them through the process. The defendant has a relationship with their barrister and yet the complainant has no one. Usually the prosecuting barrister meets the witness for a few minutes before the trial. They have no idea what to expect. Also I don't believe a complainants’ sexual history is relevant. Rape is non-consensual penetration at one moment in time.

 

Because the police and ISVA (Independent Sexual Violence Advisor) both said they had never seen such brutal questioning in their careers and the judge was heard to say he had never seen someone so humiliated on the witness stand, we knew something wasn’t quite right. If we hadn’t been able to access the cross examination transcript, we would never have known what really went on. This is why court transcripts should be free.

 

Because I realise that codes of conduct and laws were broken, I had the confidence to organise my protest outside every Crown Court in England this year. My daughter is not the only one suffering because of the court experience. I met a woman in Wolverhampton who has attempted suicide twice because of the humiliating questioning. Her sex life with a boyfriend previous to the defendant was examined in graphic detail. This is inadmissible. The accused was found guilty but her mental health has suffered because of her feelings of shame and embarrassment.

  

If you would like to support Victoria in her Crown Court Campaign to hold judges accountable, you can join her at the following locations:

 

24 April         Birmingham am                 Coventry pm

25 April         Exeter am                         Taunton pm

13 June        Cambridge am                  Peterborough pm

14 June        Basildon am

20 June        Isleworth 1-4 pm

21 June        Croydon am                      Kingston pm

3 July           Canterbury am                  Maidstone pm

4 July           Lewes am

8 July           Newcastle am                   Durham pm

9 July           Teeside am                       York pm

10 July          Kingston upon Hull am      Grimsby pm

11 July          Doncaster am

8 August      Norwich am                       Ipswich pm

9 August       Chelmsford am                 Luton pm


More dates to be added.

Last two dates are:

6 November            OLD BAILEY all day

7 November            ROYAL COURTS OF JUSTICE all day


It would be great to have as many people as possible on these last two days.

 

Let’s help lift Victoria’s voice and support her, and her daughter, as much as we can.

 

It is Never Her Fault.



Old Bailey - Central Criminal Court of England and Wales

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