The Treatment of Complaint Evidence Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 – R v X [ 2012 ]

The Decision of the Court of Appeal in R v X[ 2012 ] CA 21/6/12  exemplifies the difficulties that have arisen over how Complaint Evidence is to be treated following the Enactment of Section 120 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 . It has become clear that Courts dealing with these issues have found it easy to slip into error in respect of the correct approach and these problems typical  rear their heads in Historic Sexual Allegation Cases .

Prior to the 2003 Act Complaint evidence needed to effectively fall within what was known as ” recent complaint evidence ” . It was not admissible as to the truth but could support the credibility of the Complainants own allegations dependent upon whether :

  • It was recent
  • It was consistent with the complainants own evidence

A series of cases had made clear that Juries had to be carefully warned not to treat such complaint evidence as direct evidence of the truth of the allegations and that they had to look to the detail between the witness giving the recent complaint evidence and the complainant to help them decide whether such evidence was reliable and could accordingly be relied upon to bolster the complainants credibility – See R v Spooner [ 2004 ] .

The advent of Section 120 of the Criminal Justice Act changed the map .

The evidence no longer had to be recent but more importantly Section 120 ( 4) , ( 7 ) and ( 8 ) established that such evidence no longer went to credibility but if accepted went to the truth of the allegations .

The judge will need to give careful  directions to the jury. They will concern matters relevant to the reliability of the witness’ complaint derived from its context, circumstances and consistency, and the explanation for any delay in making it.

The jury must be reminded that a complaint cannot provide independent support because the source remains the witness – R v A(A) [2007] EWCA Crim 1779.

In R v X [ 2012 ] where complaint evidence was placed before the Jury but no direction was given to the Jury upon how to deal with it the result was that the safety of any conviction was undermined .

Crown Court Judges must be careful to understand the continued need of care when dealing with complaint evidence and should not assume it is a done deal !

More information may be added to this piece when the Judgement Transcript is published but as L must now face a re-trial no comment can be given further over the specific facts of L

Solicitor for X – Mark Newby QualitySolcitors Jordans 

Counsel for X – Mark Barlow Garden Court North Chambers Manchester 

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