Tag Archives: rape

Sexsomnia Defence Successful


Senior Crown Court Litigator Lisa Sawyer

Senior Crown Court Litigator Lisa Sawyer based at our Nottingham office, helped achieve trial success after exploring a rather obscure and developing area of defence, sexsomnia.

Her client was charged with two counts of rape and multiple sexual assaults. He denied the offences, putting forward a defence of ‘sexsomnia’ or ‘sexual behaviour in sleep’.

Expert in Sexsomnia

The case involved Lisa instructing perhaps the leading expert in the field, Dr Chris Idzikowski BSc PhD CPsychol FBPsS.  He is President of the Sleep Medicine Section of the Royal Society of Medicine and Director of the Sleep Assessment and Advisory Service.

sexomniaThe area of sleep research and sleep medicine that relate to sexsomnia have only evolved recently, and as a result there are no generally accepted methods to investigate whether sleep-related behaviours have lead to criminal charges.  The preparation of this case involved the client as an inpatient for two nights for a study of his sleep patterns.  The expert was then able to consider:

  • whether the client was capable of involuntary behaviour during sleep
  • to review the behaviour alleged and see whether it could have occurred whilst the person was asleep.

Research has shown that many forms of sexual behaviour can occur whilst an individual is asleep.  Generally the behaviour is simple and rarely includes more complex acts such as intercourse.  In this case the client was said to have committed a rape.

For a proper opinion to be given evidence has to be gained from a number of additional sources – usually historical, such as from a partner, previous partners, friend and relatives.  The key witnesses, however, were the client and his then partner.

Favourable conclusion

Dr Idzikowski was able to conclude that the client had a predisposition to involuntary behaviour during sleep, and that factors existing in the client’s personal life at the time may well have led to the behaviour.  The partner being present was a sufficient trigger for the behaviour, and the timing and behaviour was consistent with ‘parasomniac behaviour’, behaviour whilst asleep, or sexsomnia.

The Crown Prosecution Service attempted to counter this expert evidence with its own doctor flown in from America to give evidence.

Specialist advocacy from independent counsel

sexomnia crown court trial
Nottingham Crown Court

Following careful handling of the case by specialist advocate Gary Summer of 9 Bedford Row  the client was found not guilty.

The quality of representation may be of particular importance in rape cases as recent research has shown that many jurors have decided on guilt before they reach the retiring room.

Representation under the Crown Court legal aid

The client had the additional benefit of being in receipt of legal aid which meant that ultimately, because he was successful at trial, the preparation and representation was free of charge to him.  This was of particular importance as the expert fees necessary to prepare the case in his behalf were considerable.

Contact a criminal defence specialist

Sleepwalking and automatism

Sleepwalking cases are important and sensitive cases to deal with. Our specialist lawyers can advise you on whether you have a defence, and help you put that defence forward, advising on prospects of success and instructing experts to help along the way.

As a result, if you are arrested or know that the police wish to speak to you about a criminal offence then make sure you insist on your right to free and independent legal advice.

The advantages of such early legal advice can be found here.

If you have already been interviewed or face court proceedings we can still make a real difference to the outcome of your case.  Legal aid may well be available to fund your defence at court.

You can read more about the issue of automatism here.

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Consent and Sexual Offences

It would be thought that in relation to sexual offences and the issue of consent the issue should be straight forward – yes or no?

As always, life and the law are more complicated than that.  The issue of consent is, unfortunately, not so simple.

What is consent?

 A person consents if she or he agrees by choice and has the freedom and capacity to make that choice.

consent rape

Can a drunk person give consent?

Yes, drunken consent is still consent.  However, this is where problems can arise. If a person loses their capacity to choose through drink then he or she is not consenting.

Where a person is consenting is frequently the issue in many rape cases.  As a result it is often one word against another.

The Courts have given the following guidance as to the issues to focus upon:

  1. Did sexual intercourse take place?
  2. Did the complainant consent to sexual intercourse?
  3. Did the complainant have the freedom and capacity to consent?
  4. Did the defendant reasonably believe that the complainant was consenting? This consideration will not apply in all cases.

Who decides?

 At trial, it will be for the jury to determine issues of capacity and consent having heard all of the evidence.

How do you prove consent?

In the absence of something in writing, and even then, there could be doubts  A jury will have to decide the issue having heard all of the evidence.

consent sexual offenceIn some cases, it is not enough for a defendant to simply say that he or she believed the other person was consenting.  There must be evidence that he or she had a reasonable belief that there was consent. This would include considering any steps taken by the defendant to ascertain the complainant was consenting.

The situation could also arise where consent is given on condition, for example, that a condom is used. If one is not used, then the “consent” may no longer provide a defence.

There have also been cases where a female has pretended to be a male and had intercourse on that basis. The defendant was guilty because the complainant said that she would not have consented if she had known that the defendant was female.

How can we help?

This article is a brief analysis of potential issues, as you can see this is an area that would require careful assessment and expert advice.

The problem with many alleged sexual offences is that they require a jury to examine intimate factual scenarios, often clouded by drink or drugs, where there is seldom any independent evidence to assist one way or the other.

consent rape

It is our job to present the strongest case possible.  You can read more about how we will prepare your case fro trial here.

To ensure that your defence is properly advanced from the start, you will want to take advantage of our free and independent legal advice in the police station.  The advice is free to you no matter what your income.  You can read about the advantages of early advice here.

Sexual offences are likely to be heard before the Crown Court.  We will always advise you as to your entitlement to legal aid to ensure affordable representation at trial.  You can read more about Crown Court legal aid here.

We provide nationwide representation from our offices across the East Midlands.  You can find your nearest office here.  Alternatively you can use the contact form below.

consent sexual offences

Rape Juries Reach Guilty Verdicts Before Deliberation

Majority of rape case juries reach guilty verdict before deliberation

Nearly half of all juries in rape cases come to a guilty verdict before they retire to the jury room to deliberate, research shows.

The study found that 43 per cent of jurors came to their decision in advance, with the figure as high as 83 per cent if they themselves had been the victim of a sexual assault. However, the jury room deliberations did have an impact, with 13 per cent changing their minds after discussion with fellow jurors.

The research also showed that a juror’s educational background had significant implications for verdicts. Those who never made it to degree level were more likely to vote “not guilty” because of an increased tendency to hold more sexually aggressive attitudes.

Mock rape trials used in study

rape trials not guilty jury

The study was conducted by the University of Huddersfield with legal advice and support from St Johns Buildings, the Manchester barristers’ chambers, using mock trials. The findings may increase calls for jurors in the UK to be screened for pre-conceived bias before being selected, particularly in rape trials, the researchers said.

Ministry of Justice statistics from 2015 reveal that just 1,297 convictions of sexual offences were secured, representing less than four per cent of all cases recorded by police over the 12 months.

Dominic Willmott, a researcher at Huddersfield University and lecturer in forensic psychology at Leeds Trinity University, said that the research demonstrated “that for all the best efforts of the courts, juries are not necessarily offering a fair and impartial assessment of the evidence, particularly within rape cases.

Demographic and  personal attitudes key

“Past experiences play a huge role in shaping the person you are, and inevitably affects your view on society. As well as the importance of demographic features of the jurors, attitudes towards rape were found to be the strongest predictor of high numbers of not guilty verdicts.”

Nigel Booth, a barrister at St John’s Buildings, played the role of the judge, with other barristers acting for the prosecution and defence.

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On Trial for Serious Sexual Offence

Senior Crown Court Litigator Lisa Sawyer recently instructed Barrister Vanessa Marshall of 7 Bedford Row chambers.  The allegation of a serious sexual offence, and Lisa’s client was one of two defendant’s on trial.

Complainant Gave a Detailed Account

The prosecution case was that the complainant had been targeted in a nightclub by both defendants as she was drunk and vulnerable.  In evidence the complainant alleged that she only had a partial memory of leaving the club and what happened afterwards.  She maintained that she was not in control of her actions or in a position to consent to sexual contact owing to her intoxication.

sexual offence criminal defence legal aidThe three went to a flat and she maintained that she drifted in and out of consciousness, became aware that she was being made to have sex against her will, and pretended to be unconscious hoping that they would leave her alone.  She alleged that they did, and she was able to take her belongings and flee.  She complained of being ill-treated to a taxi driver and to her mother.

The complainant was able to give the location of the flat that she had been taken to.   The co-accused was arrested and he gave the name of Lisa’s client.  Their mobile phones were seized and interrogated.  Photographs of the complainants underwear were recovered and a video footage of Lisa’s client having sex with the complainant who seemed to be asleep and wasn’t participating.  Further photos were found that did not show either defendant in a good light.  Further interrogation of the phones showed that the defendants were part of a Whatsapp group that publicised their sexual encounters and kept count.

Client Accepted Poor Conduct but not Rape

Lisa’s client and co-accused accepted being the two men involved, and accepted sexual activity in the night club.  They maintained that the complainant was not as intoxicated as she latter alleged.  A request for disclosure of CCTV from

sexual offence criminal solicitor
Nottingham Crown Court

outside the club supported this account.  Both men accepted having intercourse with the complainant.  They accept that there conduct in relation to the photos, filming and messages was distasteful and showed a lack of respect, they had not raped the complainant.  Detail they they could provide of the complainants personal circumstances could only have come from conversation with her, suggesting she was sober.

Phone Evidence Supported the Defence

Our client argued that the complainant arose out of regret after the fact.   There was evidence to show that she had spoken to a friend in the taxi back to her mothers, but had deleted that call record from her phone before the police could seize it.  She gave different accounts as to her recollection in her interviews and in her first description of events to those concerned in the investigation.

Although a trial for a sexual offence should be heard quickly, proceedings were prolonged.  The first trial concluded with a hung jury.  There was a second trial in December 2016 that resulted in both defendant’s being acquitted.

Client had Legal Aid for Sexual Offence Trial

The case had a number of complexities that counsel and Lisa identified.  With the benefit of legal aid, Lisa was able to:

  • Instruct a medical expert to comment on injuries seen to the complainant
  • A telecommunications expert who provided crucial evidence as to deleted calls and commentary on call history between her client and the complaiant
  • Instruct expert counsel to represent her client

Exemplary Character

Although counsel was from London chambers, Lisa knew that she would spend as much time as preparation of the case would entail.  Significant time was spent with our client in conference.  Lisa drafted a comprehensive defence statement dealing with every aspect of her client’s defence so that he could not be criticised at trial.  Her client’s instructions were eight pages long.  Lisa was able to secure a number of references that demonstrated her client’s exemplary character away from these proceedings.

Counsel fought extremely hard on behalf of Lisa’s client to secure this result and avoid a conviction and sentence that would have been measured in years.

Contact Lisa Sawyer

sexual offence criminal defence
Senior Crown Court Litigator Lisa Sawyer

Whatever the charge you face before the Crown Court, be it a sexual offence or other allegation, Lisa will be able to provide you with expert specialist legal advice, instruct the best advocates and secure any expert evidence necessary to assist you case.  Please telephone her on 0115 9599550 or email her here.