A piece in today’s Times:
Yet again, the feminocracy is banging on about how women are so badly treated by The System. Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws, QC, reportedly told the Bar conference at the weekend that the courts needed to be more aware of women’s rights and the MeToo movement. She called for more sensitivity when sentencing women offenders so that judges took account of “abuse and violence in their backgrounds as well as their caring responsibilities”.
But when it comes to claims of sexual misbehaviour, the injustice shoe is surely on the other foot. Of course, women are sometimes victims of sexual attack, harassment or unwanted advances. MeToo, though, has created the impression that depravity is not just widespread but innate in the male sex.
This is a wild and sexually selective generalisation. Moreover, shouldn’t individual men be given the benefit of the doubt until such claims are proved? Aren’t they entitled to have such claims properly tested?
In the House of Lords, there’s been a tremendous to-do over allegations against Lord Lester of Herne Hill, QC. Jasvinder Sanghera, a campaigner against forced marriage, accused him of groping, sexual harassment and promising her a peerage if she slept with him.
Following an investigation by the Lords’ commissioner for standards, Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the privileges and conduct committee recommended that Lester be suspended from the chamber until 2022 for sexual harassment and “corrupt inducements”.
However, after Lester’s friend and fellow human rights lawyer Lord Pannick, QC, argued that the commissioner had not acted “in accordance with the principles of natural justice and fairness”, the Lords rejected the suspension.
Pannick’s main point was that, given the apparent holes in Sanghera’s evidence, Scott-Moncrieff should have allowed Lester or his lawyer to cross-examine her. Further support for him over a perceived abuse of process has provoked murmurs that Lester is being protected by powerful friends in the world of human rights law, where he is revered as a pioneer.
I am no friend of Lester (we have had many differences over the years) but surely fairness and natural justice demand that an accused should be able to ask questions of his accuser.
Cue outrage over the peers’ decision from Sanghera, Scott-Moncrieff, more than 70 Lords’ employees and the Labour MP Jess Phillips. This could not be about due process, Phillips sneered, since no peer had previously criticised this procedure. However the advocate she rubbished as “the fancy lawyer-man Pannick” had criticised not the procedure but the commissioner. He told the Lords that Scott-Moncrieff had not fulfilled the requirement for fairness by using her discretion to allow cross-examination.
Phillips, though, went further. Last July, the Tory MP Andrew Griffiths resigned his ministerial post over claims that he had sent 2,000 lewd messages to two female constituents. He then revealed he had suffered psychiatric problems after being abused as an eight-year-old boy, culminating in a nervous breakdown.
The Conservative Party dropped its investigation into him on the grounds of his mental health. According to Phillips, this was merely “an excuse” for his behaviour and a myth to protect the powerful. Childhood abuse or mental illness, she said, didn’t explain wanting to “belittle and exploit women”.
Yet Kennedy was urging lighter sentences for women offenders on account of any abuse and violence in their backgrounds. So what is deemed sensitivity and compassion when dealing with women, it seems, turns into a myth to protect the powerful when the accused is a man.
The reason is the underlying assumption that men are innately misogynistic and women accusers always their victims. This is behind the repeated assertion, endorsed by public prosecutors and sundry politicians, that the number of rape convictions is too low. The pressure on police and prosecutors to rack up those numbers has caused several recent cases to collapse.
The inescapable premise is that most, if not all, men accused of rape are guilty, because men are predatory and women are their victims and so their accusations are invariably true. The reality is that the woman may be lying or the sexual encounter may be too ambiguous for a jury safely to convict.
Yet now the Labour MP Ann Coffey has called for juries in rape trials to be scrapped because of the dominance of rape stereotypes and “shockingly low” charging and conviction rates caused by the reluctance of jurors to find such men guilty.
This growing contempt for the presumption of innocence is not just eroding fairness and the rule of law. It has destroyed the lives of men who have been wrongly accused, and on occasion has even replaced justice by tragedy.
The Welsh politician Carl Sargeant, whose inquest opened yesterday, reportedly killed himself after he was sacked as a minister a year ago following allegations of sexual misconduct. According to his family, he wasn’t told the details of what he was accused of doing and so was unable to defend himself.
The belief that men are incorrigible sexual predators has been given rocket fuel by the ferment over apparently depraved showbusiness cavemen. But this gender sectarianism has meant that, when it comes to unfairness and injustice, more and more men are now saying MeToo too.
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