Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Every male has a choice about where he puts his penis."

The British House of Lords today ruled 3-2 that conviction of a male for "rape of a child under age 13" when he, at age 15, had what was accepted in this posture as consensual peno-vaginal intercourse with a 12-year-old female, did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights provision (article 8) guaranteeing respect for private life.

Over the dissents of Lord Hope of Craighead and Lord Carswell, a majority consisting of Lord Hoffman, Baroness Hale of Richmond, and Lord Mance ruled that, given the way the case arose (where the complainant after the defendant was charged admitted lying about her age and later in the proceedings expressed her satisfaction with a guilty plea entered on the basis that the two of them had consensual sex, so that she did not have to testify in court), the crown was not required to proceed against the defendant on the basis of a different section of the Criminal Offences Act of 2003 criminalizing "sexual offences committed by persons under 18," which carries lower penalties and did not bear the term "rape" in its title. The majority believed that the defendant's main objection, since the Court of Appeal had reduced his sentence, was the stigma of the term "rape." But they did not believe that sufficient to violate the defendant's article 8 right to respect for his private life.

Baroness Hale, speaking somewhat plainly, also took pains to reject the characterization of section 5 of the Act as a "strict liability" crime that the Lords were somehow improperly upholding:
The perpetrator has to intend to penetrate. Every male has a choice about where he puts his penis. It may be difficult for him to restrain himself when aroused but he has a choice. There is nothing unjust or irrational about a law which says that if he chooses to put his penis inside a child who turns out to be under 13 he has committed an offence (although the state of his mind may again be relevant to sentence). . . . The object is to make him take responsibility for what he chooses to do with what is capable of being, not only an instrument of great pleasure, but also a weapon of great danger.

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