The English court system is considering a controversial new report by Dame Elish Angiolini that would establish a rule that women cannot be viewed as consenting to sex if they are found to be intoxicated. The report is pushing an amendment of the Sexual Offences Act to establish the rule.
The current law allows the jury to decide such questions in the specific context of the case. They use their common sense and their view of the credibility of the witnesses. However, Dame Elish, a former Lord Advocate in Scotland, wants woman’s incapacity to consent to be a codified exception “embedded in legislation.”
Once police determine that a woman is intoxicated, they would consider any sex as unconsented and thus rape. Conversely, the new rule could effectively gut the ability of the accused to argue consent. The new effort is heralded by Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders who said that with the sweeping change rape victims would no longer be “blamed” by society if they are too drunk to consent or if they simply freeze in terror.
The problem is that it could foreclose the key defense in such cases and denies jurors the ability to make this determination in the context of the case. In 2007, a court ruled that a woman could consent to sex even if drunk which is the standard approach in such cases. Intoxication can lead to a determination of incapacity and often does. However, there are different levels of intoxication and cases have different facts of when and how consent was given. Moreover, the level of legal intoxication is falling in many countries with the crackdown on drunk driving. It is not clear what level of intoxication would be viewed as per se foreclosing consent defenses. There is also the question of whether the same standard should be applied to the men if both parties are intoxicated — negating intent to rape.
Dame Elish admits that the various changes would required a “radical change” in the way they treat victims, but it could be equally radical in terms of the due process accorded such cases. I think that she is clearly correct in getting police to document the level of intoxication after a report by the victim is an important step and should be a regular practice. She is also clearly correct that at some level of intoxication there cannot be consent. However, the rule presents a far more sweeping rule and could clearly limit the core defense in such cases.
I am very sympathetic to the overall report which identifies some clear problems in staffing, resources, and handling of cases. She is also right that there appears to be no clear rule established for handling cases involving alcohol consumption. The problem is drawing a codified line in such cases that would be both consistent and clear and fair. There may be a good reason why intoxication is recognized as a critical factual determination but not codified in this sense. It is the type of contextual element that touches on some many elements of credibility and facts both preceding and during the sexual encounter. That does not mean that some codification could not be done but it is fraught with dangers if it is meant to curtail the defense of consent in my view.
Source: Daily Mail