A LEGAL chambers has said it is “shocked” at calls by one of its barristers for the age of consent to be lowered to 13 in an attempt to end the “persecution of old men” like disgraced broadcaster Stuart Hall.
In an article for online publication Spiked, Barbara Hewson, a barrister at Hardwicke chambers in London, who specialises in reproductive rights, called for the end of anonymity for complainants.
And the human rights lawyer labelled crimes committed by Hall, who recently admitted indecently assaulting 13 girls, the youngest aged just nine, as ‘’low-level misdemeanours”.
In a statement, Hardwicke said: “We are shocked by the views expressed in Barbara Hewson’s article in Spiked.
“We did not see or approve the article pre-publication and we completely dissociate ourselves from its content and any related views she may have expressed via social media or any other media outlets.”
Children’s charity the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said to hear such ‘’outdated and simply ill-informed” views from a highly-experienced barrister ‘’beggars belief”.
Her comments come as Scotland Yard runs Operation Yewtree, an investigation split into three inquiries into allegations involving deceased presenter Jimmy Savile, claims involving Savile and others and those involving just others.
A number of high-profile figures have been arrested under Yewtree such as entertainer Rolf Harris, former pop star Gary Glitter, DJ Dave Lee Travis, comedian Jim Davidson and PR guru Max Clifford. All deny any wrongdoing.
Ms Hewson argued that ‘’the post-Savile witch-hunting of ageing celebs echoes the Soviet Union” and said it is not difficult to see why some elderly defendants ‘’conclude that resistance is useless”.
She added: ‘’But the low-level misdemeanours with which Stuart Hall was charged are nothing like serious crime.”
Ms Hewson continued: ‘’Ordinarily, Hall’s misdemeanours would not be prosecuted, and certainly not decades after the event.
‘’What we have here is the manipulation of the British criminal justice system to produce scapegoats on demand. It is a grotesque spectacle.”
The barrister went on: ‘’It’s time to end this prurient charade, which has nothing to do with justice or the public interest.
‘’Instead, we should focus on arming today’s youngsters with the savoir-faire and social skills to avoid drifting into compromising situations, and prosecute modern crime.
“As for law reform, now regrettably necessary, my recommendations are remove complainant anonymity, introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions and reduce the age of consent to 13.”
Ms Hewson argued that ‘’touching a 17-year-old’s breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one’s hand up a 16-year-old’s skirt” are not comparable to cases such as the Ealing Vicarage rape or Fordingbridge gang rape and murders from 1986.
“Anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality.”
And Ms Hewson labelled charities like the NSPCC and the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) as ‘’moral crusaders” and “do-gooders” who have infiltrated Yewtree.
Peter Watt, director of the NSPCC helpline, said: ‘’These outdated and simply ill-informed views would be shocking to hear from anyone but to hear them from a highly experienced barrister simply beggars belief.
“Stuart Hall has pleaded guilty to abusing children as young as nine years old; we think most people would agree that crimes of this nature are incredibly serious. Thankfully the law, and most people, are very clear on this matter.
“To minimise and trivialise the impact of these offences for victims in this way is all but denying that they have in fact suffered abuse at all. Any suggestion of lowering the age of consent could put more young people at risk from those who prey on vulnerable young people.
“we must strongly defend the right for victims to remain anonymous and to ask for justice no matter when they choose to come forward.
“who are abused are bullied, blackmailed and shamed into staying silent, often well into adulthood. We must always be prepared to act no matter how long ago the abuse occurred.
“The actions of those who speak out also protect others from abuse and give confidence to other victims to come forward.”
Ms Hewson is regularly ranked as a Leading Junior by The Legal 500 in the fields of public and administrative law, human rights and civil liberties, and professional discipline and regulatory law, according to her chambers’ website.
She has won cases in the European Court of Human Rights, the Supreme Court and High Court of the Republic of Ireland.