I am utterly delighted that Nigel Evans has been acquitted of serious allegations of sexual assault. He is a good, kind, gentle and decent man and a very old friend. I hope that he will be able to reconstruct his political career.
Hope? Well yes. He might have been acquitted but the stigma is still there. The country has been salivating at tales of hands down trousers, drunken groping and late night romps. And there is a vociferous group of militants who believe that whatever the decision of a jury, any man accused of rape must be guilty. So in the eyes of some, Nigel’s acquittal is meaningless.
If nothing else this case highlights the need for anonymity of defendants in cases of sexual assault and rape. Ah, some will say, this will prevent other victims coming forward. Not so. Make it a rule that all defendants in sex-related cases are automatically granted anonymity but with the prosecution having the right to apply to a judge to waive this anonymity in exceptional circumstances.
The next question is whether there should be a review as to how the CPS brings rape cases to court. I prosecute these sorts of cases and there have been flotillas of these reviews. In lay terms the guidelines are that complainants have a right to be heard and this has to be weighed against the strength of the evidence – and each case is unique. Yet we are all victims of history; the horrors of Savile still resonate. We must never return to the days when those who want to complain are ignored or not taken seriously. This is of particular concern if the allegations are ancient. How does the CPS decide, unless it is gross and obvious, that the complainant is genuine or a vindictive gold digger? If there is supporting evidence, fine.