Court Denies Appeal in Autism Consent Case Under Sexual Offences Act 2003

Citation: [2023] EWCA Crim 1503
Judgment on

Introduction

The case of Robin Edward Jacobs v R [2023] EWCA Crim 1503 presents an analysis of the intersection between a defendant’s autism spectrum condition and the legal concepts of consent and reasonable belief therein, under the Sexual Offences Act 2003. The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) adjudicates upon an appeal against conviction for rape, alongside an associated application for leave to rely upon fresh evidence, purportedly demonstrating the relevance of the defendant’s autism to the reasonableness of his belief in the complainant’s consent.

Key Facts

Robin Edward Jacobs was convicted of rape following an incident where he engaged in non-consensual anal penetration with the victim, referred to as L. The defence argued that L had initially consented to vaginal intercourse, and failure to understand a withdrawal of consent led to the incident, partially due to Jacobs’ autism.

During the trials, it was considered whether Jacobs’ autism could have influenced his belief that L consented to the act. The case examines statements by two psychiatrists, their interpretations of Jacobs’ condition, and its potential impact on his comprehension of consent.

The jury, during deliberation, requested a legal definition of ‘reasonable’, pertinent to the discussion of whether Jacob’s belief in consent was reasonable. His conviction was challenged on the grounds that the jury lacked sufficient information about his autism and that the trial judge failed to give adequate direction regarding the relevance of autism to the defendant’s reasonable belief in consent.

The key legal principles revolve around the definition of reasonable belief in consent as mandated by the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the interpretation of expert evidence admissibility standards. The court reaffirms the objective standard set by the 2003 Act—it isn’t enough for a belief in consent to be genuine; it must also be reasonable when considering all circumstances of the case.

The court referenced R v B (MA) [2013] EWCA Crim 3, an authority that underscores that mental conditions such as delusional psychosis can’t make an unreasonable belief in consent reasonable — a belief must align with objective standards of reasonableness.

Regarding expert evidence, it is iterated that its admissibility depends on relevance to the issue, the need for specialized information, the competence of the witness, and reliability of the opinion presented. Fresh evidence on appeal is guided by Section 23 of the Criminal Appeal Act 1968, which allows new evidence if it appears credible, relevant, admissible, and if there’s a reasonable explanation for its absence in the original trial.

Outcomes

The appeal was denied on the grounds that the conviction was safe. The Court held that the applicant’s autism did not, on the facts presented at trial, affect the reasonableness of his belief in consent. Moreover, the fresh psychiatric evidence failed to meet the necessary criteria for admissibility on appeal laid out in the 1968 Act; the reports did not introduce new facts, but rather offered theoretical possibilities that weren’t sufficiently connected to the incident’s specifics.

Conclusion

The Court of Appeal confirmed the conviction, finding that Jacobs’ autism was not relevant to the reasonableness of his belief in the complainant’s consent as per the criteria set out in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 and the principles stipulated in R v B (MA). The decision underscores the significance of tangible, case-specific evidence over theoretical or general assertions, reinforcing the necessity for objective standards in determining the reasonableness of a belief in consent, irrespective of the defendant’s mental condition. The court’s methodical approach reflects an unwavering commitment to the integrity of the legal process, ensuring that justice is not undermined by unsubstantiated evidence or inferences.

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