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 the disgraced broadcaster Stuart Hall.
In an article for the online publication Spiked, Barbara Hewson, a barrister at Hardwicke chambers in London who specializes in reproductive rights, also called for the end of anonymity for complainants. And the human rights lawyer described crimes committed by Hall, who recently admitted indecently assaulting 13 girls, the youngest aged nine, as “low-level misdemeanors”.
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.”
The NSPCC said to hear such “outdated and simply ill-informed” views from a highly experienced barrister “beggars belief”.
Hewson’s comments come as Scotland Yard runs Operation Yewtree, an investigation split into three inquiries into allegations involving the 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 the entertainer Rolf Harris, the former pop star Gary Glitter, the DJ Dave Lee Travis, the comedian Jim Davidson and the PR guru Max Clifford. All deny any wrongdoing.
Hewson argued that “the post-Savile witch-hunting of ageing celebs echoes the Soviet Union” and it was not difficult to see why some elderly defendants “conclude that resistance is useless”.
She added: “But the low-level misdemeanors with which Stuart Hall was charged are nothing like serious crime.”
Hewson continued: “Ordinarily, Hall’s misdemeanors 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.”
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 the Fordingbridge gang rape and murders of 1986.
“Anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality,” she wrote.
Hewson labelled charities such as the NSPCC and the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (Napac) as “moral crusaders” and “do-gooders” who had 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 minimize and trivialize the impact of these offenses 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.
“And we must strongly defend the right for victims to remain anonymous and to ask for justice no matter when they choose to come forward.
“Many 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.”
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 the high court of the Republic of Ireland.