Too many miscarriages of justice over sex allegations

Last updated 05:00 26/08/2014

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Mike Yardley

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There is something septic and grossly unjust about the historic sex allegations that have skewered a stream of British celebrities, with Sir Cliff Richard being the just latest cab off the rank.

OPINION: Operation Yewtree continues to carry the whiff of an overcooked witch-hunt. Rolf Harris may have been a big scalp, but the vast majority of famous faces fingered and investigated for historic criminal horrors have not faced prosecution. Of those that have, most have been found not guilty.

But their reputations are unceremoniously and irretrievably trashed in the process. Just ask Michael Le Vell or William Roache. (I'm just waiting for Winnie the Pooh to be investigated for continually taking the underage Christopher Robin on "adventures" deep into Ashdown Forest.)

And now, the BBC and the South Yorkshire Police are being hauled before an independent inquiry for their shameful treatment of Sir Cliff.

The BBC were apparently tipped off by the constabulary about the impending raid on the entertainer's residence, so that when five police cars swooped on his home, helicopters were already clattering overhead, televising the titillation live, worldwide.

The entertainer is prematurely ruined, socially and commercially, on a global scale. How can the innocent, and the presumption of innocence, be protected from this sort of feeding frenzy?

Sir Cliff is now damned to 18 months in limbo, while the police decide whether to charge him. Whatever happened to that great historic promise of the Magna Carta, that justice will not be delayed?

Interestingly, what's happening in Britain couldn't happen in most European counties, where time limits prevent prosecutions of most sexual offences, if they date back more than a decade.

One of our city's great legal minds, who's served 50 years in the profession, Nigel Hampton QC, has been troubled by such issues, ever since New Zealand's criminal law reform abolished the evidential rule in the 1980s.

That rule required a solemn warning to juries of the dangers of convicting a person of a sexual offence in the absence of independent corroborative evidence. Hampton argues that solely relying on the dim-and-distant human memory, without corroborative material, gravely heightens the prospects of a miscarriage of justice.

To minimise that risk, Hampton has been a long-time advocate of legislating a 10-year time limit in relation to sexual offending allegations. His preference is for a return of the corroboration rule, but he concedes that's unlikely. Therefore, Hampton still believes the 10-year time limitation period on historic sex abuse allegations is the best practical solution for New Zealand. To the layperson, it screams common sense.

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- The Press

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