Monday, March 14, 2011

Seeking redress - Pursuing justice in the civil court

Those rape survivors who have watched their attacker secure an acquittal in court, or stood by feeling helpless when the Criminal Prosecution Service decided not to proceed with their case DO have another avenue. They can sue their attacker for damages. And they have a better chance of winning.

The reason is because the burden of proof is less in the civil court. In the criminal court, the defendant doesn't have to prove his innocence, the prosecution has to prove, beyond all reasonable doubt, that he is guilty. If any "reasonable doubt" exists, then a jury can and will acquit. In the civil court, the decision is made on "the balance of probabilities".

Recently, a woman won substantial damages against a man who had repeatedly sexually assaulted her when she was 10 and 11 years-old. He had been found not guilty in the criminal court. A court case, according to a BBC report, where two of the woman's friends were forbidden to be witnesses, even though their testimonies could have been crucial to her case. Also, a previous conviction of sexual assault against a teenage girl was not mentioned in case it prejudiced the jury.

But taking the case to the civil court has its drawbacks. It may be expensive, although some lawyers may be willing to take it on under a "no win, no fee" agreement and Legal Aid is available.

The possibility of being cross-examined by one's attacker is a big off-putting factor, something which wouldn't be permitted in the criminal court.

But if the woman is brave enough to face that, she does as least have the opportunity of forcing her attacker to make some amends, if only in the form of financial compensation.

Sadly, the rapist would still escape a criminal conviction, but their victim would be able to feel that at least some semblance of justice had been done.

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