Eastenders explores rape: Part 4 – what happens when someone is accused of rape?

7 December 2018

In this blog series, we have explored the concept of consent, the making of a complaint of rape from the perspective of the victim and what happens to those who may be interviewed as witnesses. In this piece we will look at what happens to someone who is accused of rape.

The drama has largely focused on the impact this ordeal is having not only on Ruby but also the relationships of those around her. In real life, when an accusation of a sexual offence is made it can have huge ramifications for everyone involved, including those who have been accused.  

What the viewers saw

A lot has happened in Albert Square since the last blog post. Ruby’s life is in turmoil and Stacey and Martin are arguing over the fact Martin shared a picture of Ruby kissing one of the men accused of rape with the police.

Ruby then receives a call from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) – they tell her that they are going to charge both Ross and Matt with rape and the local gazette runs a front page story of their decision. Ruby tells Stacey that ‘it all feels real now’ and her anxiety worsens despite the fact neither she, nor the men, are named in the news piece.

Ruby and Stacey head to the Queen Vic - unaware that Martin is there with her alleged rapists Ross and Matt. Ruby tries desperately to ignore them but Stacey's temper flares and demands that Martin, Ross and Matt leave.

How does this happen in real life…?

We largely do not see what actually happens to Ross and Matt throughout the storyline.  Matt and Ross make it clear that they dispute Ruby’s account of the events and we can probably presume they have continued to assert their innocence throughout.

There are a number of stages that take place before someone is ‘charged’ with an offence; there are various procedures the prosecution team have to follow in order to ensure the whole process is carried out properly.

Police interview of the suspect

When someone is suspected of committing a crime, they will almost always be interviewed under caution following arrest or as a volunteer. Matt and Ross would be interviewed separately.

This gives the suspect an opportunity to answer the allegations and give their own account, which may give the authorities information which points towards or away from deciding to charge them with the offence.

When Ross and Matt were interviewed by the police they would have received a ‘caution.’ This means at the beginning of the interview the police officer would have said to them:

You do not have to say anything. But, it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.’

This essentially means that neither of the men are obliged to speak to the police. They can say ‘no comment’ to each of their questions if they choose to. However, if the case does later go trial and they rely on  information that they did not mention in their interview, the jury can make what is called an ‘adverse inference.’

This means that the court can draw a negative conclusion from the defendant's silence when interviewed at the police station; in other words, the court may hold the defendants silence against them. The court will only draw an inference if it is reasonable to do so and the inference alone cannot be the basis for a guilty verdict.

Decision to charge

In a criminal case, if the prosecution assess that there is sufficient evidence to provide ’a realistic prospect of conviction’ against each suspect on each charge, a decision to charge is made.

With some minor and routine cases the police can make the decision to charge without consulting the CPS. However, with complex and serious cases such as rape, the police can decide to submit the evidence they have gathered to the CPS to advise whether the suspect should be charged and what that charge should be.

The full code test

The ‘full code test’ is a two-stage test which is applied each time a charging decision is made, whether it is made by the police or the CPS.

  1. The evidential stage 
    The first stage is called ‘the evidential stage’ and it must be met before the second stage can be considered. Prosecutors and police decision makers must be satisfied that there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect on each charge.

    While Matt and Ross will be considered separately, clearly there is a lot of cross over with the evidence which will be considered in their cases. There must be enough evidence that the decision-maker believes a court would be more likely than not, to find both Matt and Ross guilty of rape. 

    This is particularly difficult with cases of rape where, usually, the only people that are present for the offence are the victim and the alleged perpetrator. Where there is conflicting evidence, the prosecutor has a duty to assess the credibility and reliability of the complainants’  evidence. 

    There are cases which may be discontinued, not because the prosecution does not believe the victim, but because, when considering all the available evidence in the case, there is not enough evidence to meet the evidential threshold required. If the evidential test is not met, the suspect cannot be charged.

  2. Public interest stage
    If the case passes the evidential stage, the decision maker must go on to consider the public interest stage. A prosecution will usually take place unless the prosecutor is sure that the public interest factors against prosecution outweigh those in favour. The authorities must consider a number of points including how serious the offence is, the impact on the community and the harm caused to the victim.

What happens next?

Until now, no-one knew that the complainant was Ruby and that the alleged rapists were Ross and Matt. Ruby has been targeted by online trolls and is becoming more and more paranoid about the potential impact the fact people know she is the person behind the allegations will have on their perceptions of her.

Eastenders has been widely praised for how the storyline has been played out. Since the story has been reported in the local gazette the whole square has been talking about it, with many thought-provoking conversations being televised between various characters and their views on consent.  It will be interesting to see how the story continues to progress over the coming weeks and how they could potentially portray this matter making it to court.

Further information

For further information on the issues raised in this blog post, please contact a member of our criminal litigation team in confidence.

You may also be interested in reading some of our other blogs around consent:

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We welcome views and opinions about the issues raised in this blog. Should you require specific advice in relation to personal circumstances, please use the form on the contact page.

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