Perhaps the most significant development in jurisprudence of the last twenty years is the axiom that victims of abuse are always to be believed. Spreading from cases of rape and inappropriate sexual treatment of women, the axiom has increasingly been applied to child abuse and paedophilia. Two cases come readily to mind.
In the United Kingdom, ‘Nick’ (aka Carl Beech) accused a group of distinguished figures (including a former Prime Minister and a former head of the Armed Services) of child abuse and murder. His evidence (according to the new axiom) was deemed reliable by senior police officers. Raids were made on the homes of the accused. No corroborating evidence ever emerged. Eventually the case was dropped, and the ‘victim’ was himself uncovered as a fantasist and paedophile. But not before reputations had been trashed and immense hurt and harm had been caused. The police action was costed at over two million pounds.
In Australia the leading cleric (rated third in rank in the Vatican) was accused of molesting two boys in the sacristy of his own cathedral many years previously. One of the boys subsequently died – but not before allegedly denying to his mother that he had been abused. According to the new axiom, in the case of Cardinal Pell, the complainant was believed, and the accused (after two jury trials) was convicted. On appeal, the conviction was upheld by two of the three judges. In a two-hundred-and-fourteen page dissenting summary, the third judge questioned both the evidence and (by implication) the axiom. The case awaits appeal to the High Court.
There are notable similarities between the two cases. In both the police were officious in pursuing the matter; and in both they managed to produce no corroborating evidence. In both cases it is to be suspected that their enthusiasm was fuelled by the excitement of anticipated high profile convictions.
It is to the credit of the British judicial system that the accused in the Carl Beech case have been paid damages for the unwarranted intrusion into their lives. Though the damage to the credibility of the Metropolitan Police Force has been considerable. The reputation of the Victorian judiciary awaits the result of the final appeal in the case of Cardinal Pell.