The question of anonymity for men accused of rape (as well as for complainants) seems to be never far from the news nowadays. Whilst it is impossible to know the number of false complaints, it is generally acknowledged to be low. Proven false allegations of rape (or any offences) are rare, but tend to get a high level of publicity.
Facts of this case
An example is given by this story from Sheffield on the 5th October 2013. Stuart Berry married to Hannah Berry in 2010. By the next year, the relationship had deteriorated. It seems that the Judge who sentenced Ms Berry accepted that there may have been some abusive behaviour, presumably by Mr Berry. We don’t have the full details, so it is not right for us to comment on the truth of that.
The Court case was triggered after Ms Berry made an allegation of rape against her husband in 2011. As is usual, this was investigated and Mr Berry arrested and interviewed by the police (spending, as was reported, just over 24 hours in police custody).
As is also normal in these sorts of cases, Mr Berry was released on bail whilst further enquiries were made by the police. What followed was less usual – Mr Berry turned detective. He started by emailing her on Facebook and asking her why she was making a false accusation.
Helpfully (for him), she apologised and they arranged to meet. At this meeting, Mr Berry wore a ‘spy watch’ which recorded Ms Berry confessing to making a false accusation. Inevitably, the rape charges were dropped after this was disclosed to the police, and Ms Berry found herself being prosecuted for Perverting the Course of Justice.
It seems that Ms Berry pleaded not guilty and had a trial, at which she was convicted. Whilst that was her right, it is difficult to see what defence there could have been. The Judge sentenced her to 12 months in prison, but suspended for 12 months. This means that Ms Berry was free to go. Provided she stays out of trouble (and complies with any conditions that the Court imposed) then that will be the end of the matter.
Why was the sentence for the false accusation so different to that of rape?
This seems to have irked Mr Berry. So much so that he posted a video of the confession on YouTube along with speaking of “his ‘disgust’ at the likelihood of a suspended sentence on social media“. It is an interesting and difficult question whether Mr Berry broke any laws, either by illicitly recording Ms Berry, or by posting it on the internet. In any event, whatever the legality, the second was unwise (and may also have amounted to a Contempt of Court in what appears to have been an on-going case).
The sentences for false allegations are always lower than would be passed if the underlying rape allegation had gone to trial and the Defendant had been convicted. This often sparks various puzzlement and outrage as to why the sentences should not be the same.
One thing that should be addressed straight away is Mr Berrys’ comment that “If I’d been convicted I could have been sent to jail for up to eight years“. This is not correct. The maximum sentence for rape is life imprisonment. Whilst the exact details of the allegation is not clear, it would be likely that, under the sentencing guidelines, the starting point would be five years in prison.
The Courts have repeatedly made it clear (see here as an example) that false allegations of rape should almost always attract a custodial sentence. The guidance would appear that this should be in the range of 1-2 years (going up to 3 years if the circumstances require it). Generally, the further through the system the false allegation went, the more serious it will be taken.
On that basis, the sentence of 12 months is about right, perhaps on the low side, but not by much. From the news report there were complexities in the case that weren’t reported in the newspaper, and so the reasons that the Judge was able to suspend the sentence are not known.
The reasons why the sentences are lower for perverting are that the offence is inherently less serious. Also, the offence is the making of a false allegation and the seriousness of that (and it is undoubtedly serious) does not depend greatly on the nature of the allegation that is made – it is the ‘attack on the judicial system’ rather on the victim of the false allegation, that is the seriousness of the offence.
I appreciate that that may not be a view that is universally held – what do you think?