Rape case horror splits profession

THE PROSECUTOR who watched a rape victim being cross-examined for six days by her attacker has called for a tough sentence to deter future defendants from putting victims through a similar ordeal.

Stephen Holt, of Furnival Chambers, said the case had left him “completely schizophrenic” about whether the defendant in a sexual offence case should have the right to cross-examine the alleged victim.

“Half of me says this should never be allowed to happen again. But the other half says the defendant was exercising a centuries-old right that should not simply be swept away.”

The case at the Old Bailey saw Ralston Edwards, 42, exercise his right to represent himself. He was found guilty of rape, but his victim has described her experience at the trial as “being raped by the British justice system”.

Holt said a tough sentence would send a clear message: “All defendants should know that if they exercise the right to cross-examine their victims, they face a stiffer sentence.”

But he praised presiding judge, Ann Goddard, stressing there was a risk a conviction could have been quashed if she had intervened too often.

The legal profession is divided over the case. Barbara Hewson, of the Association of Women Barristers, called for a complete review of the law on sexual offences. She said some circuit judges could be too close to the criminal Bar, which had resisted changes to the adversarial trial process, and they were not sufficiently proactive and robust in controlling trials.

But Mark Haslam, secretary of the London Criminal Court Solicitors Association, said a change would be “a draconian over-reaction to a one-off case”. He said there were already safeguards on cross-examination.