Editorial: Cutting the golden thread

Rape is a serious crime. It occurs far too often. It is frequently devastating upon its victims and can leave mental scars that last a lifetime. Despite this, it often goes unreported, and even then seldom results in a successful prosecution. To the victim, an investigation and trial can seem more of a violation than the original crime.

It is therefore right that society - and those who make the rules which govern it - should try to stamp out the crime, and find means to improve the way the justice system handles cases.

This is the entirely laudable motive behind Labour's new justice policy: Shifting the burden of proof on the issue of consent to the defendant.

It is certainly a dramatic idea. Rather breathtaking, in fact. In effect, Labour's policy is that if you have sex it was rape unless you can prove it wasn't.

Except in rare circumstances where consent can be proven. perhaps through a secret videotape - though this is also illegal - conviction will be almost automatic on the word of the accuser. All a woman (or man) needs to do is say that a sexual encounter was rape, and bang!

What Labour's justice spokesman Andrew Little is promising is guilt by accusation, and an end to the ancient principle of presumption of innocence. And ancient it is, predating even the Magna Carta. It was described by Lord Sankey in 1935 as the "golden thread" running through English law. It is also a key part of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The casual abandonment of this principle is downright scary. Every person who has sex, even with their spouse, would be able to have their partner jailed at a word.

Little - the man who would be Labour's minister of Justice - has dismissed criticism, saying "there is no evidence [of] a propensity to lay false complaints".

Most claims of rape are genuine, even if not all can be proven. But false accusations are real, too, at a rate estimated by experts at between 2 and 8 per cent. Who knows how many more such complaints would be made if the law were changed as Little desires?

Labour should think again about this one.

The Southland Times