Senior silk, Howard Godfrey of 2 Bedford Row, was today found by a disciplinary tribunal to have implied that a woman who was sexually assaulted by her stepfather ‘bore responsibility’ for her stepfather’s actions.
Godfrey is recognised as one of the UK’s leading criminal barristers and has a reputation as a ‘master strategist and supreme tactician’, his online profile reads.
Nevertheless, this did not appear to aid his cause, considering the finding by the Bar Tribunals and Adjudication Service that he made submissions towards the victim in her appeal that were “offensive and unnecessary”.
The Tribunal elaborated on its decision by adding that Godfrey had acted in a way which was ‘likely to diminish the trust and confidence which the public places in the profession’. Godfrey was also ordered to attend a training course on ‘advocacy and the vulnerable’.
Unfortunately, this isn’t likely to be the last instance of what is deemed to be inappropriate conduct by lawyers in sex cases. The issue as to how lawyers are expected to conduct themselves in such cases has become an increasingly sensitive issue in recent times.
Another high-profile case is that of Ched Evans which saw the judge in that case allow the complainant to be examined on her past sexual history.
Steps were being taken to prevent the cross-examination of sexual assault and domestic violence victims by their attackers and allow a limited cross-examination by legal counsel in other circumstances, by the UK government. However, the Prisons and Courts Bill, which was to provide for such limitations and prohibitions, has since been scrapped in the run-up to the snap general election.
Nevertheless, according to His Honour Peter Rook, QC, bullying or brutal advocates who put witnesses in rape trials through a gruelling ordeal of cross-examination are finally a dying breed. He notes that there has been a “massive culture change” in recent years whereby cross-examination techniques have been modified and there are “special measures” so that vulnerable witnesses can give recorded evidence or from behind screens.