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United Kingdom: Ruling Highlights

(Mar. 27, 2012) A woman who had been subject to a sustained period of domestic abuse by her husband was jailed for eight months after she “falsely” retracted claims that she had been raped by him. She was jailed for perverting the course of justice after she retracted accusations that her husband had repeatedly raped her, which had led to him being charged with six counts of rape. These claims were considered by the court to be unreservedly accepted as fact, and the wife claims that she acted under extreme pressure from her husband and his sister. (A v. R, [2012] EWCA Crim. 434, Nina Lakhani, The Court Ruling That Shows the Injustice of Britain's Rape Laws, THE INDEPENDENT (London) (Mar. 14, 2012); Guidance Perverting the Course of Justice- Charging in Cases Involving Rape and/or Domestic Violence Allegations (in force from July 7, 2011), The Crown Prosecution Service website.)

The woman recently attempted to have the conviction overturned on two grounds, that she had acted under duress and that the conviction was “unsafe” –, i.e., it was subject to an irregularity, misdirection of the law, or new evidence. On the second ground, the court held that her conviction was not unsafe – in the end it found that none of the criteria for rendering the conviction unsafe were met. On the first ground, the court held that the pressure from her husband and sister-in-law and concerns over what would happen to her and her family if she were sentenced to a lengthy term of imprisonment were not sufficient to amount to duress. The court further ruled that it could not “quash a conviction on a broad, somewhat nebulous basis of unfairness where the conviction, following due process, is in every respect safe.” (A v. R, supra.)

The Director of Public Prosecutions had offered the appellant an apology after the initial conviction, and was quoted as stating:

We need to work on our approach in retraction cases. From now on, my approval for charging will be needed in these cases and we will monitor them closely. If the victim has decided to withdraw a rape allegation, we must explore the issues behind that, particularly if the victim is under pressure or frightened. (Amelia Hill, Woman Fails to Quash Conviction for Falsely Retracting Rape Claim, THE GUARDIAN (Mar. 13, 2012).)