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