Prosecutors in sexual assault cases do not have to prove that the accused person’s intent was sexual, the Court of Appeal has ruled, after being asked by the attorney general to clarify the law.
In her role as Guardian of the Public Interest, Suella Braverman MP sought clarification after a defendant, who cannot be named, was acquitted of sexual assault after kissing a stranger on the lips last year.
Braverman asked the court if it was necessary for the prosecution to prove, as an element of the offence of sexual assault, not only that the offender intentionally touched another person without their consent, and that the touching was sexual, but that the offender intended the touching to be sexual.
According to the appeal court’s judgment, published yesterday, the woman testified that the defendant grabbed her face and kissed her with a ‘sloppy’ and ‘forceful’ kiss on the lips. The defendant said it was not a sexual kiss and he had not intended sexually to assault her.
In the Crown court trial, the prosecution argued that the touching was sexual within section 78 (b) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003 because of its circumstances and because the purpose of the kiss was sexual gratification. The defence argued that whilst a kiss on the lips may be sexual, in this instance it was not sexual within section 7(b) either because of the circumstances or because the purpose of the kiss, as the defendant maintained, was not sexual. The Crown court judge ruled in favour of the defendant.
In its judgment, the appeal court said the ‘statutory ingredients do not contain the requirement that the accused intended the touching to be sexual’.
The appeal court concluded: ‘We are confident that the answer to the question posed by the attorney general is that it is not necessary for the prosecution to prove, as an element of the offence of sexual assault, that the offender not only intentionally touched another person without their consent and without reasonable belief in their consent, and that the touching was sexual, but also that the offender additionally intended his touching of that person to be sexual.’
Braverman said the appeal court’s judgment will provide greater clarity for future cases. The Attorney General’s Office said the ruling will not change the original verdict, nor will there be a re-trial.
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