A Reflection On The Court Visit
As part of my visit to the Oxford Crown Court I have attended a case in which the defendant has been charged with sexual assault. The very nature of the subject allowed me to think about the seriousness of a rape charge and the impact of such a felony upon the victims. Under criminal law, sexual assault involves application of physical force upon the victim without having been given consent. Through this I became aware of the importance of behavioural research and psychologists which could aid the victim to recover from trauma.
The court required the victim to provide evidence as the defendant pleaded not guilty, despite this her identity and privacy were protected in court as she has been seated in the courtroom in a way which prevented her from making eye contact with the defendant, this I found essential for her psychological well-being.
The central problem which was constantly arising was that there was not enough physical evidence upon which the prosecution barrister could base the argument. The burden of proof was on the persecution and therefore physical evidence from the medical examiner was necessary. However, it was concluded the scars and marks on the victim’s body did not necessarily come from sexual assault. This made me consider the uncertainty and perhaps vagueness created by such evidence, that which is based on physical examinations.
The defendant's evidence supported claims, which he provided during trial, I found to have been consistent and elaborated enough to convince the jury members and judges of his innocence. However, it was the prosecution barrister who was constantly challenging and sometimes aiming to confuse defendant.
After considering everything, I have found the role of the jury to be essential to the verdict but also to the general English Legal system. They have been directed by the judges and had access only to evidence which has been provided in court. Whilst impartiality was a requirement, I believe that, because their role is not to interpret the law but rather to analyse the facts their precision and accuracy is greater.
The severity of the allegation required objective analysis and it highlighted how important it is for the jury to be sure defendant is guilty beyond reasonable doubt before reaching verdict.
Furthermore, another key concept I observed was the skilful interpretation of the minimal circumstantial evidence, by the prosecution barrister. The evidence consisted of text messages between the defendant and claimant. Jury paid close attention to the meaning behind them and what they inferred. The messages allowed me to think about the point at which conversation became more than a casual interaction, transforming into an act of rape.
A major consideration for myself after visiting was the conflict between emotions and justice, whether one could really be stronger than the other. However, in such cases a barrier has to be placed between us and the law, otherwise moral thoughts and personal judgements would be the ones ‘judging’. This occurred to me as I was observing the amount of stress defendant was experiencing. I concluded that certainly, it would be challenging for me to work as a lawyer who would be frequently exposed in the courtroom to decisions, which would highly impact the future of an individual.
Striking was the details judges were going into, aiming to create a visual representation of the scene minutes before but also during the act. They were focusing on identifying the moment which led to rape. This allowed me to consider the level of specifics and precision needed in this profession.
Overall, following the visit my understanding of the word consent and the implications of it became more profound. Despite victims giving signs of passivity, acceptance should not be interpreted as consent, because often the victim’s reaction is to physically and mentally freeze therefore unable to react. The law also describes situations which indicate lack of consent, such as when the state of the victim makes her unable to provide valid consent, therefore these are factors which should be considered by the other person in order to avoid non-consensual sex.