Sexual offences law goes ‘step too far’, says deputy

A NEW law which aims to bring more rapists to justice is facing resistance because of concerns it is a ‘step too far’ and that it challenges the legal principle that someone is innocent until proven guilty.

Carl Meerveld holding the Sexual Offences (Bailiwick of Guernsey) law 2020. He is concerned the proposal is a step too far and undermines the legal principal of innocent until proven guilty. (Picture By Peter Frankland, 30481178)
Carl Meerveld holding the Sexual Offences (Bailiwick of Guernsey) law 2020. He is concerned the proposal is a step too far and undermines the legal principal of innocent until proven guilty. (Picture By Peter Frankland, 30481178)

At next week’s States meeting deputies are being asked to confirm the island’s new sexual offences ordinance.

Deputy Carl Meerveld has placed an amendment to one specific paragraph in the legislation which he believes requires more consultation.

The paragraph relates to sexual consent when someone has drunk alcohol or taken another substance which means they can be overpowered or stupefied, and incapable of giving consent.

Deputy Meerveld said he had not brought the motion lightly, but felt that the paragraph would create a moral and legal hazard that went well beyond the law in the UK. His amendment would seek to maintain the UK position, he said.

‘It challenges that golden thread that underpins most legal systems worldwide that you are innocent until proven guilty, and puts the burden of proof on to the defendant to prove that they are innocent,’ he said.

He said he was aware of incidents of malicious or vindictive accusations made against erstwhile partners, and feared more accusations of rape being made where alcohol had been involved.

Deputy Gavin St Pier was responsible for adding the paragraph in question into the legislation.

He said he was deeply disappointed with the amendment, and called the timing ‘crass’ because it was published during Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.

He hoped Home Affairs would oppose it.

‘The new provision was never intended to be a silver bullet in dealing with the major problem that is sexual violence, but it is really important.

‘It does away with victim-blaming when a victim is intoxicated by making it clear that it really doesn’t matter how the victim got into that state.

‘At that point the defendant must prove that the victim did consent, or it was reasonable to believe they had.

‘The idea that this will open the floodgates to false accusations is laughable.’

Deputy St Pier said the Office for National Statistics estimated that a man stands a 0.0002% chance of being the victim of a false accusation.

‘Meanwhile, 20% of women and 4% of men experience sexual assault after the age of 16, and 98.7% of those never see the perpetrator brought to justice.

‘The time for action is now with the commencement of the legislation, as Home Affairs had recommended, not attempting to kick this important signal of change into to the long grass.’

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