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The #MeToo Movement and the Moorov Doctrine

In October 2017, the full force of the power of social media movement known as the #MeToo Movement went viral. Many well-known names  tweeted across social media with #MeToo to share their experiences of being sexually assaulted. The movement sparked a need for change and led to the subsequent conviction of Harvey Weinstein.

Following the powerful message of the ‘#MeToo,’ it is increasingly important to understand how this is translated into the law and is used in practice.

For many, the barriers in coming forward still remain with the fear of the unknown and the legal process itself. It has become vital that the process is reflective and becomes more survivor centred. In the last year, the Scottish legal system has made strides to make the process for those coming forward easier and less daunting. The changes have included the introduction of the Domestic Abuse Act (Scotland) 2018 and less widely known, changes to the ‘Moorov Doctrine’.

What is the ‘Moorov Doctrine’?

Years before the #MeToo Movement, a young woman reported an indecent assault from her employer which changed the way evidence is gathered in allegations of rape and historical abuse.

In 1929, Mary Watt worked for Samuael Moorov. After Mary turned down his sexual advances, he suspended her from her job.  When Mary reported the assault to the Police, eighteen other women from within the workplace also came forward to report similar assaults.  The majority of the assaults took place without witnesses but, Samuael Moorov’s predatory behaviour was well known to those that he worked with. As a consequence of this, many of the female employees had started to band together to protect each other from him.

Before Moorov, cases like this were likely to fail due to lack of corroboration and witnesses. When the case came to trial, the prosecution tried a new concept of ‘similar fact evidence.’ It was argued that if several complainers testified to similar assaults over a short period of time, these events could corroborate each other.

This argument was successful and it created what we now know as the ‘Moorov Doctrine.’ Moorov continues to be used today.  

Modernising Moorov

The doctrine has proved essential in convictions of rape and domestic abuse throughout the years. However, there were concerns that the doctrine was being used too rigidly, with one judge commenting that he felt that the legal facts of cases were being ‘squeezed into a Moorov straitjacket.’

A number of legal judgements over the last couple of years have sought to modernise the approach.

In 2018, the case of Spinks against PF, Kirkcaldy asked the question on whether in circumstances of domestic abuse, does each reported incident needed to be individually corroborated? The Crown had argued offences committed over a prolonged period on separate occasions, were so linked in time, character and circumstances, they were part of a single course of conduct.

The argument was not successful, mainly due to the passage of time between incidents. It was held that each assault needed to be treated individually and this meant the standard corroborate rules applied.  As a result, the accused was only charged with assaults that could be corroborated.

The same question was asked again in 2019 with Taylor against Procurator Fiscal, the respondent was convicted of repeatedly exposing himself to his female neighbour. After she experienced three of these incidents on her own, her husband witnessed a fourth and reported it to the police.

Initially, when Moorov was applied, the accused was only charged with one incident. The incident that had been witnessed by both parties.

On appeal, the High Court held that the accused could be charged with all four incidents. The High Court held that Moorov can be used to show similarities in time, place and character of the accused. The doctrine can be applied in the case of a single complainer if evidence comes from another source witnessing one of the incidents.

The judgement marks a significant change in the way cases of this nature are treated. It is clear that each case will be heard on an individual basis. Moorov can now allow the evidence of character and circumstance to be taken into account.

This is a similar message which is mirrored by the #MeToo movement; no one is alone and all evidence will be heard. It is likely that the Moorov doctrine will continue to be extended as more cases are now going to Court than ever before.

Blog by Emma Wheelhouse, Survivors Team

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