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Content warning: this blog contains references to sexual assault.
Nina Cresswell has successfully defended a libel case brought against her in the High Court by the man, William Hay, who sexually assaulted her and whose identity she revealed online in order to protect other women.
Twelve years ago, Nina was sexually assaulted when walking home after a night out. Early the next morning, she reported the matter to the police who interviewed her at home and quickly closed the investigation. They recorded that no crime had been committed.
In 2020, when the MeToo movement empowered women to share their stories of sexual assault, Nina told hers. The movement had a huge impact for Nina as, at last, she felt able to speak out and hoped to protect others.
Yet, in response to her story, lawyers representing Mr Hay sued her for libel.
Nina defended her case before the High Court in February this year. Good Law Project has campaigned and funded Nina’s legal representation to enable her to defend this case and support other women like her. We believed the case could establish a new defence for women who speak out against sexual violence.
Far too many women are ignored by the criminal justice system and don’t get support to bring rape cases forward – and then when they do they are being sued, to try and silence them.
In England and Wales, one in four women has been sexually assaulted as an adult. Crime figures from the Office for National Statistics this January showed sexual offences are at the highest levels ever recorded. Yet rates of charges and convictions remain extremely low.
Nina won her case on both her truth defence and also a public interest defence. The Judge found that she was able to prove the claimant had sexually assaulted her and that the statements she made were a matter of public interest.
This finding has far reaching and beneficial effects for victims of sexual violence who are sued after speaking their truths.
This is the first judgment of its kind. It establishes that a public interest defence can be available to women who are sued for libel. Where they are unable to overcome the burden of proving they were sexually assaulted, it establishes that they can still have a defence if they believed there was a public interest in speaking out.
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