Just what I say: Brian Nicholls

Date: Monday 10th April 2017

EVERY now and then a judge will say something stupid, often about women who are raped having worn something, done something or just walked down the street alone after dark which contributed to them bringing the attack upon themselves.

When a judge makes such a statement a lot of people, mainly women, get very angry and quite rightly, too. All women should get angry at the suggestion that the victim of rape is in any way responsible, but so should all fathers, all brothers, all sons and all husbands — in fact, all men.

Judges have always said daft things because, despite their learnedness of the law, they too often tend to have been born, raised, educated and move in a society very far removed from those whom they try and sentence.

Some of their ignorance of society is just ridiculous and funny, such as the famous question Mervyn Griffith-Jones presiding in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover obscenity case in 1960 put to the jury: “Is it a book you would even let your wife or servants read?” The jury members, surprisingly enough, hadn’t a servant between them, never stopped laughing and the prosecution case died in that moment.

One out-of-touch judge had to stop proceedings to ask who the Beatles were, to which a barrister replied: “They are a popular music group, my Lord.” However, remarks by anyone but particularly judges about the victims of rape having brought that horror upon themselves are not amusing, not right and not acceptable.

The latest controversy was sparked when Judge Lindsay Kushner, before sentencing a man guilty of rape, commented that those who commit this offence tend to gravitate to drunk women who are less likely to be able to defend themselves, report the attack or remember the circumstances reliably for a future prosecution. In fairness to the judge she did emphasise that women are entitled to “drink themselves into the ground” without the fear of attack.

Legally she is right and the victim in the case agreed with her. The seriously drunk victim of any crime risks being shredded by defence barristers regarding their ability to remember what happened, but the stark fact remains that any woman should be able to dress in skirts as short as they like and in tops as low as they like and drink as much as they like without anyone being able claim that they had the right to assume that dressing or behaving in a certain way was an obvious invitation to sex despite any lack of consent.

Judge Kushner then went on to sentence the rapist to six years’ imprisonment and maybe it is that and not women’s clothing or sobriety which is the real problem.

Is it the sentencing for this worst of all crimes which sends the wrong message rather than anything the victims may or may not have done?

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) section on rape and sexual offences — sentencing says “rape carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment” then goes on in the sentencing starting points section to give this guidance: Single offence by single offender — sentence five years. Victim aged 13 but under 16 — sentence eight years.

Really? If rape really is a “serious offence”, according to the CPS, then why are the sentences for it anything but serious? They are not serious, they are a joke, particularly when you take into account that most prisoners given sentences of these lengths will serve only half of the time behind bars.

A life sentence is what a victim of rape serves. It is what her family and those who love her serve and anyone who thinks that any woman would have brought that on herself is mad.

Victims, survivors of rape have no guilt. It is never their fault. There is only one guilty person in this offence and that is the perpetrator and that guilt should never be mitigated, watered down or excused. The only thing it should get is a sentence which truly reflects this crime and its lifelong effect on the victim.

I have to be honest and concede that if I was a patriotic Spaniard who loved his country I would feel aggrieved that someone else occupied Gibraltar, a small but highly significant chunk of territory, and would be straight round to their house to ask if we could have our rock back.

However, I am not Spanish. I am a patriotic Briton and so say no you can’t have your rock back, but let’s not be stupid or Michael Howardish about it and threaten war with Spain in particular and the whole of the European Union in general if anyone demands Gibraltar should be returned to Spain.

We do not need to go to war. The small claims court will do the job. In fact, any legal action would find in Britain’s favour because history makes our legal claim to the rock more compelling than that of Spain.

From the year 711, when there was no country of Spain as we would recognise it, until 1462 Gibraltar belonged to the Moors with the exception of a brief spell of 24 years from 1309 when it was controlled by Castile. Following the War of the Spanish Succession, Spain ceded Gibraltar to Britain in 1713 and has been griping about it ever since. So, in fact, Spain held Gibraltar for 251 years while it has been British for 304 years, which would seem to give us more than an edge in any claim to its sovereignty.

It has been a British crown colony for most of those three centuries and, as the whole world would have to acknowledge, because of that fact Gibraltar played such a vital a role in the fight for Europe’s freedom from Napoleon’s oppression in the 19th Century and Hitler’s in the 20th. Gibraltar in any other hands would have produced a very different history and a very different Europe.

However, history is something the world likes to use like a club to beat the British with by conveniently forgetting the freedoms bought with British blood and preferring instead to remember our colonial past. “The evil that men do lives after them the good is oft interred with their bones.” One begins to wonder who else will demand some part of our territory returned during the coming negotiations — Scotland and Cumbria back to the Vikings, England to Normandy and Milton Keynes to anybody who we can persuade to take it.

IT is always telling that whenever there is some criticism of one of our local authorities, Cumbria, Eden or particularly, Penrith Town Council in the letters page of this newspaper, someone leaps to the defence of the disparaged council with a long letter of rebuttal.

The problem is that the defence of the council in question always comes from the council in question and almost never from some neutral citizen, which is very telling.

Penrith Town Council seems particularly susceptible to both attack by those who do not believe it is value for money or that it is taking on roles which were never mentioned during the referendum and to a lack of defenders except David Whipp, chairman of the council and mayor — a title if I recall correctly which was the first unexpected development announced by the town council.

Mr. Whipp has great confidence and belief that the expanding empire is doing a good job. Unfortunately there seems to be a growing feeling that a number of people disagree with him.

Still, this relatively new council resulted from a democratic process and so it has to be allowed to get on with doing what it was formed to do, but not perhaps to get on with the things it seems to be planning to do and which we did not expect and for which there may not be such a strong mandate.

There is a bit of a worry that the trend of critical letters and robust defences by the council already points to the well-established response to criticism or questioning universally employed by the new council’s big brother, Eden District Council, which never admits anything, is never wrong and will never, never acknowledge a criticism by saying it will reconsider its actions, position or policies.

The new council seems to be learning (the wrong lessons) fast.