witness in sex abuse trial commits suicide after grilling by female QC

(240 Posts)
BobbiFleckmann Fri 08-Feb-13 16:23:59

the violin teacher who was the unwilling prosecution witness against the two Chethams Music School teachers killed herself in the middle of the trial. She told her friend she felt like she'd been raped again after the female defence QC accused her of lying in her evidence. Very, very sad.
My cynical view is that defendants in sex cases go for female barristers because they think it'll give them a veneer of innocence /respectability. I know the woman was "just doing her job" but I'd sure like to hear her views on methods of cross examination in sex abuse trials.

HollaAtMeBaby Sat 09-Feb-13 13:07:51

I can't understand:

- why the Daily Mail people are up in arms about the QC being a woman and feel the need to draw attention to this fact. What difference does it make? Would you feel that a black male barrister cross-examining a black male defendant should go easy on them? News flash: many barristers are female. Get over it.

- why so many people get up in arms about defence barristers doing their job. They HAVE to be tough to ensure that justice is done. They are not "trying to get rapists freed" or anything like that, they are trying to making the best possible case for the accused (innocent until found guilty) so that if the jury returns a guilty verdict, that verdict can be relied upon, because the accused had the best defence they could have had and was STILL found guilty. That is how our justice system works and if any of you are ever charged with a serioous crime you will be bloody glad of it.

Branleuse Sat 09-Feb-13 13:16:02

heartbreaking

Delayingtactic Sat 09-Feb-13 13:17:43

I'm in two minds about this. It must be awful to have to go over and over the minute details of such an awful event but what if the defendant were innocent? Would it be ok not to challenge evidence then as the accuser is vulnerable? I don't think the QCs are to blame - they have a job to do and everyone is entitled to a defence.

My utmost sympathies to her family.

HollaAtMeBaby Sat 09-Feb-13 13:18:01

and yes, I would make the same point even about a black male barrister cross-examining a black male witness - there should be no special treatment for anyone. The failings in how this case was managed are not with the QC, they are with the guidelines that prevent traumatised victims/witnesses from getting counselling until a case is concluded, and with the lack of support for vulnerable witnesses during the long and often confusing process of a criminal trial. The barrister was just doing her job.

Dededum Sat 09-Feb-13 15:28:14

The issue is not so much the QC's who are just doing their job so much as the criminal justice system, the fact this case had been rumbling on for 2 years, lack of support after previous suicide attempts and the lack of notice of the trial date. There were no doubt underlying mental health issues, maybe caused by previous sexual abuse. She was vulnerable.

Such a pointless waste of a life, leaving 4 children, 2 of whom are quite young. This just feels so brutal and unnecessary.

Veritate Sat 09-Feb-13 15:58:38

The fact is that some witnesses do lie, and a defence barrister would be failing badly in her job if she didn't test the evidence thoroughly. If I were falsely accused of something, I know I would want my barrister to do everything she could to demonstrate that those accusing me were lying, and I would be appalled if she failed to do that just because they were women.

lljkk Sat 09-Feb-13 16:11:13

Argh, I can't help but sit on fence on this one. When it's one person's word against another, a reputation to be ruined and liberty to be denied, how else can we test the evidence except by probing witnesses? To do anything else would be injustice, too.

I get the impression that prosecution in England normally does give very little support to their witnesses; better support exists in other countries I think. That's the part I would like to be changed, a kind of witnesses support charity group should exist that could offer support to witnesses on any side (impartial). Something semi-autonomous from lawyers & govt. but still able to help encourage witnesses to be brave enough to face blunt questions.

mummytime Sat 09-Feb-13 16:20:24

I knew her.

I just wish I'd known she was doing this, I would have told her "We believe you."

I also don't understand why she was advised not to have therapy during the trial.

HollaAtMeBaby Sat 09-Feb-13 16:32:04

AFAIK survivors of sexual assault are usually advised not to have therapy on discuss their experiences before they testify, in case doing so colours their memory of what happened. Awfully hard to deal with though sad

Dededum Sat 09-Feb-13 19:07:14

Hi Mummytime - didn't know her but one of my boys is in her daughters class. Not sure what if anything the school is going to say to the kids on Monday. Can't believe this won't be talked about in the playground.

dikkertjedap Sat 09-Feb-13 21:39:01

Just have read the link to the cross examination - I hope the female barrister does not sleep well and has a good think about her part in all this.

To keep accusing FA of lying is a disgrace and had nothing to do with trying to uncover the truth. If this is what barristers train all those years for ..... or she is simply a rotten apple and should be struck off.

sad

scottishmummy Sat 09-Feb-13 21:57:32

dreadful news,heartfelt condolences to her famiy
we have an adveserial legal system all parties have right to qc, each qc will vigorously defend their clients
in fairness this sad news hasn't been attributed to the qc line questions.let's wait and see

HollaAtMeBaby Sat 09-Feb-13 22:01:44

dikkert did you read my posts above? Do you have any understanding of how the legal system in this country works?

dikkertjedap Sat 09-Feb-13 22:11:07

As it is, it is nothing with how I understand the legal system. I simply disagree with you HollaAtMeBaby and I believe what that barrister did was unacceptable and she should take responsibility for her actions.

scottishmummy Sat 09-Feb-13 22:29:35

well if necessary the qc will be held to account by bar standards

Dromedary Sat 09-Feb-13 22:42:08

I think that it's quite a common assumption that a woman accusing a man of rape is lying. The barrister was probably trying to tap into this mysogenist stereoptype in the hope that it might be in the minds of some of the jury.

There is a photo of Michael Brewer in the Guardian today, going into court. I may be wrong but he appears to be wearing a top with a National Youth Choir of Great Britain logo on. If so, I am pretty gobsmacked - why would he want to do more damage to the young people's organisation he was Director of for many years?

edam Sun 10-Feb-13 00:07:53

It seems that we are failing victims by telling them not to get therapy until the case is heard. It cannot be beyond the wit of intelligent human beings to figure out a way of reconciling therapy with giving reliable, trustworthy evidence.

I agree in our adversarial legal system the defence barrister had to test the case against her client. Is there a way of doing that without calling the victim names? Could the barrister not have said 'that just isn't true, is it?' rather than 'you are a fantasist', and would it have made any difference to the emotional damage done to the victim?

Veritate Sun 10-Feb-13 00:58:15

I doubt that the suicide was solely or even principally to do with the cross examination. She had apparently had a pretty awful life, starting with being raped from the age of 8 onwards before she even encountered Brewer.

I really don't see that the QC has anything to blame herself for. If she was going too far the judge would have stopped her.

hackmum Sun 10-Feb-13 09:45:03

"If she was going too far the judge would have stopped her." Yeah - judges never make mistakes or exercise poor judgement.

"I can't understand:Why people are up in arms about the QC being a woman and feel the need to draw attention to this fact. What difference does it make?"

People expect female barristers to behave with more sympathy and tact than male barristers. Clearly they are mistaken.

Some people have made the point that Andrade was already troubled and suicidal - as if that excuses the cross-examination. But it is surely all the more reason to treat her gently. Two Australian DJs were hounded for making a prank phone call to a woman who later killed herself. They could have had no idea that she was vulnerable. The defence QC knew very well, however, that Frances Andrade was vulnerable, and she still went for the kill anyway. I'm afraid "she was just doing her job", an excuse that has a long and ignoble history, doesn't cut it for me.

The Mail on Sunday has an interview with Frances Andrade's husband (www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2276229/My-wife-killed-trial-choirmaster-Husbands-anguished-account-abused-wife-spiralled-suicide-court-ordeal.html#axzz2KJorusKL)

From the piece:

"However, Fran remained incensed by the barrister, Ms Blackwell, and by the court system.
Levine says: ‘It was partly because it was a female barrister, partly because she was called a liar, partly because she couldn’t remember all the right dates.
‘Fran said it was particularly awful because in a normal conversation you can defend yourself, but she got reprimanded so many times for fighting back."

bunchamunchycrunchycarrots Sun 10-Feb-13 09:47:25

I agree that a rethink is needed over how to question vulnerable victims. Otherwise, what's being stated is that vulnerable victims cannot get justice due to being unable to cope with the adversarial justice system we have. It's all a bit 'survival if the fittest' which makes me feel very uncomfortable. It's perhaps the cruellest of ironies that the damage caused by the abuse suffered means the victim is less able to cope with aggressive cross examination. I think it's a good point to suggest saying 'that's not true' as opposed to 'you are a fantasist' because that taps into the very fear that every victim has i.e. not just being branded a liar but a liar with issues and that explains their vulnerability, not the assault. That's precisely why it's said, knowing the effect it has on the victim i.e. rattles/upsets/provokes the victim into reacting in a way that will undermine their evidence. I don't like it one bit.

EmmelineGoulden Sun 10-Feb-13 11:28:34

Saying "that's not true is it?" or "You're a fantasist" isn't probing. The witness never says "oh OK, you caught me out there. I made all that up." Some people get rattled in the witness box. The people that get rattled aren't necessarily the liars. The point of those sorts of statements aren't to probe, they don't serve justice well.

mayorquimby Sun 10-Feb-13 14:54:39

"Saying "that's not true is it?" or "You're a fantasist" isn't probing"

But it doesn't have to be probing, the reason it is done is because anything that you are intending to put forward when making the case for your defence after the prosecution has rested must be put to the relavent prosecution witnesses.
As such if the accused intends to say that the alleged victim is lying when it is the defences turn to present their case to the court, they must put this to them when they are in the witness box.
Otherwise the alleged victim does not have the opporutnity to refute their claims.
They can't sit back and wait for the prosecution to be finished and then just get the accused to stand up and say it was all lies.
Otherwise not only does the accused not get to refute the claims but also the prosecution will, in cross-examination, want to put it to the accused that he is lying etc.
So that leaves us with a problem, because either the prosecution can now not put it to the accused that they are lying (because we've decided it has no probative value) or the prosectuion can put it to them meaning that the accused is now having his testimony examined with greater intensity than he was allowed to examine the testimony of others.

edam Sun 10-Feb-13 14:58:06

it's not just the line of questioning that the poor woman found stressful though, there are apparently lots of different aspects of the system that let her down according to today's papers. Most notably Surrey police telling her to avoid therapy, which Greater Manchester are saying they would never have done (hmm, not entirely convinced by that one). Sounds like there is a lot of work to be done to make sure victims feel supported and aren't scared off.

EmmelineGoulden Sun 10-Feb-13 18:19:19

mayor I don't really see how it's particularly probing to say to the accused "you're lying aren't you?" much better to point out discrepancies, it doesn't have to be aggressive. Nevertheless, the accused and witnesses aren't in the same situation, the accused does not have to testify. The accused has a priveledged position in many ways. And I don't think that's bad. I would certainly expect to have protections in place if my freedom were on the line. But this witness had a lot on the line too, without any protections in place. The result was tragic and the court system palyed an active part in that tradgedy.

It is obviously a major part of most trials that the prosecution are saying the accused and defence witnesses are lying, and the defence are saying that the prosecution witnesses are lying. But I doubt it's beyond the witt of the jury to understand that without assanine questions and statements being put to witnesses (or the accused) in the witness box. They're answering questions under oath, they've already said they're telling the truth. In that respect asking if they're lying is just repetition.

Our legal system (and I don't just mean the courts) often seems to have been built up clinging to traditions and assumptions without stopping often enough to ask "how effective is this at getting justice?".

Bramshott Mon 11-Feb-13 14:58:09

Surely the problem isn't so much with the barrister but with the support system (police? CPS?) which should have been there for her as a witness and was sadly lacking?

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