15 December 2007

Simon Hughes, answer me!

I have written two letters to Simon Hughes lately, one in September, and one in November. He has not replied to either.

Here they are:

1) Abortion
Dear Mr Hughes,

I am writing to you because I am concerned about the attempts of Nadine Dorries MP to restrict women’s access to safe and legal abortion, by reducing the time limit. I appreciate fully that the issue of abortion is a matter of conscience.

However, it is exactly because it is such a difficult and complex issue that I feel that women should be free to make the choices most appropriate to them and to their own personal circumstances. Furthermore, I think it important to remember that women who are desperate to access abortion will do so, and it is preferable to everybody that they should be able to do this both legally and safely.

Women must be allowed to have full autonomy over their own bodies. Indeed, it is grossly inappropriate for Parliament to attempt to pass restrictive legislation on this matter, given that it would be impossible for them to take each and every woman’s unique circumstances into account. Ultimately, these decisions must lie with individual women. In my opinion, it is the duty of Parliament to facilitate this freedom of choice by investing in women’s health care and education, and allowing women to make informed decisions about their own bodies.

A far more effective and “woman-friendly” way to attempt to reduce the already tiny number of late-term abortions in this country (about 1.6% I believe), would be to make access to early abortion on the NHS much simpler and quicker. Furthermore, GPs who conscientiously object to abortion should be compelled to make this stance clear, so that women’s ability to utilise abortion services are not hampered by an obstructive GP.

As a young woman myself, I feel very privileged to live in a country where it is possible to access abortion. However, I feel that these abortion laws must be reviewed, and it should be possible for women to access abortion without having to cast aspersions on her mental health, as she is currently forced to under UK law.

Making these positive changes to abortion laws in this country; improving access to abortion services, obliging GPs to state whether or not they support a woman’s right to choose, and removing the outdated caveat to our abortion laws which states that women’s mental health must be at risk before they are eligible for abortion, would make a massive difference to many women, and I believe, would further reduce the number of late-term abortions which are carried out.

I look forward to your response.

2) Rape
Dear Simon Hughes

I am writing to you because I am increasingly concerned about the low rate of conviction for rape in this country. Obviously, it is a difficult crime to prove, and I understand this. Furthermore, I understand that it is not the place of politicians to criticise the judiciary. However, there are some problems with the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which make it much harder for juries to convict rapists, and allows many perpetrators of this terrible crime to walk free. As an MP, you have a responsibility for the content of this Act, and I would like to put the following criticisms to you:

1) The definition of “consent” under s. 74 of the Sexual Offences Act is vague, and has led to a degree of confusion in court, particularly regarding the ability of a victim to consent to sexual intercourse when intoxicated. I think a larger section outlining the effect of intoxication on the ability of a person to consent to sexual intercourse needs to be included in this Act, so that the law is absolutely clear in this area.
2) S. 1 (2) of the 2003 Act is very problematic. The ability of the court to look at “all the circumstances” leading up to, and including the sexual act itself, means that this test of “reasonable belief” is not an objective test, as it should be, but a subjective test. This means that the jury are allowed to hear evidence from the defence that the victim was wearing a short skirt, or had been behaving flirtatiously, or that the victim had consented to sex with the defendant on a previous occasion. None of these are relevant factors in the ability of the victim to consent, nor should it affect the defendant’s “reasonable belief” in the victim’s consent. At the moment, we have a situation where a person’s ability to consent or not depends on their previous sexual relationships with the defendant and others, what they were wearing, and whether or not they have behaved flirtatiously in the past. Obviously, this is neither fair, nor good public policy. Furthermore, we have a situation where the victim is denied justice on the basis that the defendant is of low intelligence, has poor communication skills, or is young, for example.
Instead of having this test, which allows the defence to cast aspersions on the moral character on the victim (and usually means that the CPS will not take a case to court in the first place), the test should be whether or not the “reasonable person” would have believed that the victim was consenting to sex. This is a much fairer test, because it requires the jury to look only at the established facts of the case, and does not permit the defence to try to make allowances for the individual defendant, with the aim of an acquittal.

Many other criminal offences contain an objective test, which is considered much fairer. The Offences Against the Person Act for example, which has high tariffs, including life for s. 18 offences, has a lower requirement still. For conviction on s. 47 and s. 20 offences (as well as s. 18 in the alternative), the defendant must merely be reckless as to the level of harm which they have caused (i.e Simple assault, battery, or ABH).

Therefore, I feel that the argument about the concern that juries may convict innocent men of rape is unjustified, and is contradicted by another statute, which has high tariffs, but a lower mens rea element.

I would be very interested to know your opinion on this matter, which is of grave concern to many people in this country.

Please write back! Or I will come and see you in your surgery and ask you, firstly, why you don't think that replying to your constituents is important, given that you work for us and are accountable to us. Secondly, I will ask you for your considered opinions on abortion, and thirdly, I will ask you if you think that the Sexual Offences Act 2003 is working.

No comments: