Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Sex and time

A hundred years on, R v Blight (1903) 22 NZLR 837 (CA) retains its potency. The House of Lords has referred to it in R v J [2004] UKHL 42 (14 October 2004), in which a majority upheld the prohibition on the prosecution evading a statutory time limit by alleging a similar offence, not subject to such a limit, based on the same facts:

[65] … there may indeed be some initial difficulties. But your Lordships would merely be adopting the same approach as has applied in the case of the equivalent legislation in New Zealand for over a century, following the decision in R v Blight 22 NZLR 837. Significantly, [Crown counsel] was unable to point to any insuperable problems which the prosecutors or courts had encountered there. On the contrary, when, in R v Hibberd [2001] 2 NZLR 211, the Court of Appeal came to interpret the Crimes Act 1961 as amended to cover homosexual offences, in the light of their experience they deliberately adopted the same approach to the time-bar as had been laid down in R v Blight.

Baroness Hale dissented:

[90] … The rationale behind the time limit can no longer be that which it was said to be in R v Blight 22 NZLR 837. If it is that the defendant can no longer have a fair trial, I would certainly agree that such prosecutions should be stayed either as an abuse of process or as outside the prosecutor's competence to bring. If it is, as was suggested by the Criminal Law Revision Committee when it recommended retention of the time limit in its 15th report in 1984, that people should not be prosecuted for offences which were "stale", it is unclear what this means in a case where a fair trial is still possible. If it means that something which was once a matter deserving of punishment is no longer so because of the passage of time, then this will not invariably be so. At one extreme will be the teenage romance between a boy and a girl who have since gone their separate ways, where no possible personal or public interest would be served by prosecution. At the other will be prolonged and serious abuse of a position of trust by a person who might well be left to do it again unless action is taken. It will all depend upon the circumstances, in which the interests of the accused, the victim and of society will all play their part. A just and humane prosecution policy should be capable of taking all these factors into account.

The difference between the majority and the minority reflects formalist and pragmatic analysis, respectively.

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