Prosecutors do not need to prove that a defendant was motivated by their own sexual gratification to prove sexual assault, clarified the Court of Appeal on Thursday. It is only necessary to show that the defendant’s act was sexual in nature according to a ‘reasonable person’ in the circumstances.
The court’s decision was made following a call by the Attorney General, Suella Braverman QC MP, for clarification after a defendant was acquitted for sexual assault at Teesside Crown Court for kissing a stranger on the lips on a train. In that case the complainant alleged that the defendant had grabbed her face and given her a ‘sloppy’ and ‘forceful’ kiss on the lips.
According to the defendant, he had kissed her in response to someone who had said: ‘What do you want a photo with her for? She’s fat and ugly.’ He maintained that it was not a sexual kiss and that he had merely done it to support her.
The trial judge accepted the defence’s arguments that touching was not sexual if the defendant had not intended it to be. However, in its ruling, the Court of Appeal clarified that sexual intent is not an additional element of sexual assault under section 78(b) of the Sexual Offences Act 2003. It suffices that the defendant touched a person without their consent and that the touching was sexual. Therefore, while the defendant’s intention may be relevant to the question whether touching is sexual, it is not necessary.
The Attorney General said, in response to the judgment, ‘In my role as Guardian of the Public Interest I argued that an assault did not need to be intended to be sexual to amount to sexual assault. I welcome the Court of Appeal’s judgment which will provide greater clarity for future cases – especially for victims of sexual assault.’
However, her office has confirmed that the case’s original verdict will stand and that no re-trail will be had despite the Court of Appeal’s ruling.