Accusation as Proof: Uncorroborated Historic Sexual Abuse Allegations
Professor Dennis J. Baker, Montfort University, Leicester
In this paper, I want to examine the issue of proof raised by the recent appeal to the Supreme Court of Victoria in Pell v. The Queen. 1 Following decades of child sex abuse scandals and the emerging culture of “accusation is proof,” some campaigners have argued for legal reforms to increase the number of convictions. The Guardian newspaper has reported that the Children’s Commissioner for England “has suggested lowering the burden of proof in cases of child sex abuse to the civil standard of balance of probabilities.”2 A balance of probabilities standard of proof would lead to many wrongful convictions. Given the current culture of accusation is proof, might the law now be powerless to prevent some innocent people from being convicted?
If accusation by convincing storytelling is all that is needed as proof in historic sex offences cases, then criminal justice risks adopting an approach of it is better to convict a few innocent people than let one guilty person go free. A convincing raconteur might convince even the most seasoned professionals of his or her lies. Carl Beech superlatively demonstrated the power of convincing storytelling when he convinced senior police, journalists, MPs, lawyers and others that Sir Edward Heath, Lord Bramall and Harvey Proctor MP, among others, committed sex offences against him when he was a child. Remarkably, the police said his allegations were credible and carried out an investigation over many years ruining the lives and distinguished careers of some of those who were subject to the false allegations. Politicians (including the current Deputy Leader of the Labour Party),3 journalists, police and other MPs all took his claims as very credible.4