12:34, August 09 253 0 theguardian.com

2019-08-09 12:34:04
Rape case highlights need for legal reform

It is not so surprising that the Crown Prosecution Service is reluctant to rely on potential DNA evidence alone in this case (Woman born after rape wants to use her DNA to prosecute father, 6 August). The prosecution would still need to prove that the 13-year-old victim did not consent in order to establish rape, and it is therefore a problem that the victim is unwilling to testify.

The unexplored question is why the father cannot be prosecuted for unlawful sexual intercourse (ie sex with an underage girl), which would have been the applicable offence in the 1970s. Your article suggests that there is more than enough evidence to justify his arrest, and then a DNA sample could be taken. If the samples were to match sufficiently strongly, a prosecution could commence without any involvement of the victim.

Sadly, there is an answer to this question. There is thought to be a time limit of just one year for all instances of this offence, when committed before 1 May 2004 (when the Sexual Offences Act 1956 was still in force). This time limit probably protects thousands of perpetrators who should otherwise still be prosecuted for abusing underage girls. The CPS has been silent about the problem for many years. But it is quite possible for legislation to put it right, and it would be helpful if the media were to campaign for legal reform.

Dr Jonathan Rogers

Lecturer in criminal justice, faculty of law, Cambridge University