Hannah Thompson discusses the trial of Prince Andrew and the politics of prosecuting the elite.
The news of Prince Andrew’s upcoming trial is set amongst a social climate in Britain where the crimes of the most rich and powerful are being exposed. This week alone, Boris Johnson and Mason Greenwood’s crime and corruption have dominated the news, in spite of the riches and media influence that they possess. However, the country currently stands at a cross-roads: will these obscenely powerful figures face rightful legal repercussions? Or will their crimes be swept under the rug by the best lawyers that money can buy?
Last month, it was announced that Prince Andrew will face a civil case in the US after allegations of sexual assault. This came after the failure of his lawyers’ twisted defence that depended upon a 2009 deal Virginia Giuffre, Prince Andrew’s accuser, signed with convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. This protected other ‘potential defendants’ from further cases, yet was completely dismissed by an unimpressed Judge Kaplan, due to the vagueness of this umbrella term. It is now generally assumed that Andrew will need a miracle to save him from this dire legal position, as his last-ditch resort fell through. Giuffre is demanding proof of Andrew’s feeble contentions of his inability to sweat and an infamous night out in Woking’s Pizza Express. Both of these potentially erratic claims made under the pressure of an interview should prove incredibly difficult to evidence in court.
The case has attracted huge media attention, with almost unanimous belief in his guilt. A YouGov poll found that a mere 6% of Britons believed Prince Andrew’s shaky account of his friendship with Epstein. This lack of trust is also fairly consistent across society, as only 5% of 2017 Labour voters believed the Prince, compared with 8% of Conservative voters. Hopefully, the dramatic prevalence in the disbelief of Andrew’s version of events will prevent another powerful man from escaping scrutiny unharmed.
Prince Andrew has repeatedly refuted Giuffre’s claim, professing that it simply ‘didn’t happen’. However, there are several other factors in addition to her testimony that paint a lucid picture of a guilty man. The recent stripping of Andrew’s royal titles appears pre-emptive of a culpable verdict. Furthermore, in his car-crash Newsnight interview, his guilt seems palpable to the viewer through a string of seemingly ridiculous and transparent lies. He alleged that Giuffre’s account must be inaccurate as he had what he termed ‘a peculiar medical condition which is that I don’t sweat’. Emily Maitland, the Newsnight interviewer noted in a Tatler article that his answers ‘seemed astonishing, jaw-dropping, even in places’, demonstrating her reaction to the absurdity of his answers which was shared with viewers. There is also photographic evidence, as pictures of him and Giuffre, as well as the guilty Maxwell and Epstein, have circulated globally and should be impossible for Andrew to hide from. Therefore, to the vast majority of media consumers, his guilt appears unquestionable.
Unfortunately, being a civil case, Andrew will not face criminal punishment and therefore will not be sentenced to time in prison as Epstein was. However, his royal status cannot prevent him from being found guilty in the civil case and having to pay Giuffre. Whilst the Queen benefits from sovereign immunity which means that she cannot commit a legal wrong or face legal proceedings, this does not extend to other members of the royal family. This means that Andrew can no longer hide behind a shield of power, influence, and wealth as he now stands in the same position as any other civil defendant, except for the fact that he can afford the best lawyers and defence possible.
It is hoped that at the end of the trial in the autumn, Andrew will be forced to admit guilt. This would be incredibly important for Giuffre, as well as other survivors of sexual assault. The difficulty for women to come forward in these cases, especially when testifying against the most powerful elite cannot be underestimated. Giuffre’s case refers to events that occurred thirty years ago, and thus she has been carrying the burden of these assaults for an incredibly long amount of time, a burden made worse to bear by the constant intimidation and questioning of her integrity by Epstein’s and Andrew’s defences.
A guilty verdict in Andrew’s case would set an extraordinarily important precedent around the world that no one is above the law. It would prove that justice can still triumph over the apparent impenetrable circles of old money and power. In a time where convictions of sexual assault are at an all-time low, it would encourage other survivors to speak out, no matter what position or wealth the offender possesses. It would help to foster a sign of hope and confidence that men in power cannot abuse women and escape comeuppance.