Judge criticised for ‘outdated’ rape views joins Peterborough family court
A judge who was criticised for having ‘obsolete’ opinions on rape is now sitting in Peterborough.
In one case, Judge Robin Tolson QC held that a woman’s allegation she had been raped by her then partner as she had taken “no physical steps” to stop him.
The verdict was later overturned on appeal after being described as “flawed,” “unsafe” and “wrong,” with a retrial ordered.
Last August, Judge Tolson stood down from the Central Family Court in London, but the Judicial Office has confirmed that he is now sitting in Peterborough as a family court judge.
Two further women, who claim they were raped by former partners, are also appealing against his rulings with their cases recently being heard in the Court of Appeal.
Dr Charlotte Proudman, who is representing one of the women, told the Peterborough Telegraph: “I have serious concerns about what seem to me to be Judge Tolson’s failure to understand the impact of domestic abuse on the lives of victims and children.
“In light of the concerns raised in the Appeal Courts I stand by my comments that, without intense domestic abuse training, it is untenable for him to remain as a judge presiding over family Court cases in which claims of rape, domestic abuse and coercive control are made.
“My worry is that there may be cases in which he has failed to grapple with the allegations, leaving children at risk of harm in the care of a potential perpetrator.”
Judge Tolson was criticised after the successful appeal in a case where a woman initially lost her court battle with her former partner over custody of their son and believed the judge’s “outdated views” on sexual assault influenced his conclusion.
Judge Tolson stated during the custody hearing that because the woman “was not in any sense pinned down,” she could “easily, physically, have made life harder” for the man.
In December 2019, Ms Justice Russell overturned Judge Tolson’s decision, stating that “the judgment was so flawed as to require a retrial”.
She ruled: “The logical conclusion of this judge’s approach is that it is both lawful and acceptable for a man to have sex with his partner regardless of their enjoyment or willingness to participate.
“This is a senior judge, a designated family judge, a leadership judge in the family court, expressing a view that - in his judgment - it is not only permissible but also acceptable for penetration to continue after the complainant has said no (by asking the perpetrator to stop), but also that a complainant must and should physically resist penetration in order to establish a lack of consent.”
Justice Russell also stated that Judge Tolson employed “obsolescent concepts concerning the issue of consent” and that his approach was “manifestly at odds with current jurisprudence”.
The ruling prompted more than 130 lawyers and campaigners to sign an open letter to the President of the Family Division calling for wider action.
Training is currently provided to judges in criminal courts considering issues of serious sexual assault and consent, but that is not the case in the family court, Justice Russell added.
Her ruling called for this to change.
The Court of Appeal is currently considering four appeals against decisions made at private hearings, two of which were made by Judge Tolson.
None of the families may be identified, but all four cases are said to feature women’s complaints of sexual violence or coercive and controlling behaviour against ex-partners which involved disputes around access to children.
The court was told that the “common thread” in the four cases was that no findings of abuse had been made against any of the men involved.
It is expected that the judges will not only decide whether the appeals are upheld or rejected, but will give guidance to family court judges on how issues relating to allegations of rape and coercive control should be approached.
A judicial spokesperson said: “HHJ Tolson QC sits as a judge at Peterborough Combined Court.
“The deployment of individual family court judges is a matter for the Lord Chief Justice and, where appropriate, is delegated to the President of the Family Division. It is not a matter upon which either the LCJ or the PFD comment upon publicly.”
Women seeking support for the court process can visit: https://www.supportthroughcourt.org/ or https://rightsofwomen.org.uk/get-information/family-law/.