Accused of perverting course of justice, woman to appeal against 70% cut in compensation for her ordeal
Lord Judge, the lord chief justice, released the woman from jail in 2010 in a case that altered the way lawyers treat victims who retract rape claims. Photograph: Ian Nicholson/PA
Helen Pidd The Guardian Monday 30 May 201612.58 BSTLast modified on Monday 30 May 201613.23 BST
A woman who was jailed for falsely retracting a true allegation of rape is to challenge the compensation awarded to her by a court.
The woman, known by the pseudonym Sarah, was sentenced to eight months in 2010 for perverting the course of justice, but she was released on appeal after serving two weeks.
Ordering her early release, the most senior judge in England and Wales accepted that her husband had raped in November 2009 after years of domestic violence. The lord chief justice acknowledged that she subsequently tried to retract the allegation after coming under pressure from her husband, only to change her mind again when the case against him was dropped and she was charged with perverting the course of justice.
Sarah eventually won compensation for her ordeal, but her award was reduced by 70% because of the cost of the abandoned rape case and two minor driving convictions. On Tuesday she will appeal the reduction, arguing that the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) had punished her unfairly.
Rape victims can apply for financial compensation whether or not their attacker goes to jail. They CICA awards varying amounts according to the severity of injuries, from a basic payment of £11,000 to a maximum of about £44,000. The awards can be reduced or denied on the basis of having a minor conviction for smoking cannabis, a driving offence or shoplifting.
Sarah’s compensation was reduced on the grounds that she failed to cooperate with the police in attempting to bring her husband to justice and because of two unspent driving convictions received shortly after she was released from prison in a traumatised state.
The deductions have been described by campaigners as “manifestly wrong”, prejudiced and lacking compassion.
Supporting Sarah’s case in her submission to the appeals tribunal, the campaign group Women Against Rape(WAR) argues: “Put simply, it flies in the face of natural justice to reduce an award for the life-changing crime of a pattern of rape and domestic violence on the grounds of two driving offences. Both offences were committed within a few months after being released from prison. [Sarah] should never have been put in prison, which is broadly agreed by both the Crown Prosecution Service [CPS] and police.”
The courts’ treatment of Sarah led to a change in the way government lawyers deal with cases against women who withdraw rape claims, and an acknowledgement of failings” in the handling of her case. Submissions for her judicial review against the CICA decision acknowledge that she would not have been imprisoned today, because of the significant policy changes the CPS instituted, partly as a result of her case.
In her submissions to the CICA tribunal, Lisa Longstaff from WAR writes: “The Panel should have assessed her decision to retract by looking at how her behaviour was influenced by the domestic violence she had been living under, not by reducing her to a robot, but by recognising that her options and decisions were severely limited by her life experiences. By all accounts this a violent and controlling relationship; she had no keys, no purse, no driving licence. She was dependent on [her husband]. He was part of her family. As a mother, her concern for the safety, protection and wellbeing of the children will have been uppermost in her mind.”
Releasing Sarah from jail in 2010, Lord Judge, then the lord chief justice, said: “The sentencing court, when assessing culpability, should recognise and allow for the pressures to which the truthful complainant in such a relationship has been exposed, and should be guided by a broad measure of compassion for a woman who has already been victimised.”
In a police interview, Sarah said: “The only reason why I said I’d lied and made it all up was because I had pressure put on me and I’d been advised by somebody that if I said I was lying, I wouldn’t be sent to prison because I am a single mum and I’ve got 4 children. That’s the reason why I said I was lying, because that’s what I presumed would happen. I was told I would get a suspended sentence as they wouldn’t put the kids in care.”
Following her release from prison, Sarah tried to clear her name in the appeal courts but failed to have her conviction quashed, leaving her with a serious criminal record while her husband was never convicted. Although she was released early from prison, she still had to serve a community sentence with a supervision order for a period of two years.