Rolf Harris partially wins appeal against conviction

    Rolf Harris partially wins appeal against conviction

    Photo from Getty Images / BBC News


    We have covered the case of Rolf Harris in detail before (the original conviction and sentence, the application for permission to appeal and his acquittal on a second set of allegations).

    On 16th November 2017, the Court of Appeal gave judgement in his appeal against his 12 count conviction. The result was that Mr Harris one an appeal against one of the counts of indecent assault, but his application to appeal against the remaining of the convictions was refused.

    The judgement has been published ([2017] EWCA Crim 1849) and is obviously required reading.


    Grounds of Appeal

    Ground 1 – Count 1

    The successful appeal was against Count 1 – the victim was WR. The allegation was that Mr Harris had touched her vagina, over her clothing, in 1969 when she was aged 7 or 8. This was at a Community Centre in Portsmouth. One of the issues at the trial was whether Mr Harris had been to the Community Centre at all.

    At the trial, there were various admissions as to the fact that there was no record in the local newspapers of Mr Harris having an event there.

    There was fresh evidence in the Court of Appeal from a variety of sources, all that tended to indicate that Mr Harris had not been at the Community Centre in this period of time.

    Interestingly, all of these had been called at the trial of the second set of allegations this year. This was because the prosecution adduced the fact of these convictions to show that he was guilty of the new offences.

    There was also fresh evidence that had been found that went to the credibility of a David James – the only witness other than WR herself who placed Mr Harris at the Community Centre.

    The Court of Appeal allowed the appeal on this ground, primarily on the grounds of the fresh evidence relating to Mr James.


    Ground 2 – Counts 10-12

    This ground related to a different complainant. The main issues was further medical evidence relating to her that had raised when she had sued Mr Harris after the conviction. This showed that there had been more counselling sessions that had previously disclosed. The Court said that as the jury already had a good picture of this at trial, the extra material (which did not take matters much further) would not have made a difference.

    There was a further issue as to tactical decisions relating to the cross-examination of the complainant (paras 83-91).

    The Court of Appeal concluded that neither of these matters were sufficient to allow the appeal and so refused permission.


    Ground 3 – cross-admissibility 

    The third issue was whether the fact that the conviction on Count 1 was unsafe impacted on the safety of the other convictions.

    The Court decided that this did not make the conviction unsafe. Firstly, the fact of the real uncertainty as to whether Mr Harris had met WR was not an issue on the other counts.

    Secondly, even if the conviction on Count 1 was unsafe, the Court concluded that there were sufficient other allegations to mean that the withdrawal of this one did not mean that the rest were unsafe.



    This is obviously somewhat of a pyrrhic victory for Mr Harris, given that the rest of his convictions remain, and the sentence remains unchanged.

    It does again raise the issue of how to ensure that juries trying cases from 40 or 50 years ago have all the information that they need to determine the guilt of the defendant. It is a difficult issue, but one that is not going to go away.



    1. “Compensation culture” meets “times of austerity” meets a judiciary in crisis meets “a desparate for results operation yewtree” = “Rolf Harris getting bang up”. You couldn’t make it up.
      He couldnt have had the length of career in the public and never any indication of anything whiffy.
      It makes you think that our judiciary is almost incapable of getting the wrong doer when its far easier to stitch up some “believer of the integrity of the BCL”
      “Rolf Harris is just a MAN who wrote a letter regarding an inappropriate relationship with a young woman” because he is honest and moral.

    2. Interesting point on Ground 3 – Cross Admissibility. In the business world we talk about the “Bowling Pin Effect” i.e. hitting the first target or goal, makes hitting target 2, 3, 4 etc much easier. It would be good in these scenarios to perhaps interview the jurors afterwards to see what potential effect this has on their thinking – not just for this case but any case where multiple charges are in play.
      Thirty years business experience has demonstrated that this principle works. If I were a prosecution barrister I’d always try to get the low hanging fruit first and then go after the harder to reach.

    3. Accusations which turn out not to be true damage the credibility of other accusers, especially when allegations are grouped together.

    4. Again the justice system is a joke, How can any man or women protect their selves when they are found guilty of a historic crime even when their is no real evidence you just got to be in the wrong place at that time and you are guilty in court of law, that is not justice. how can any person remember 30 40 or 50 years ago, months, weeks or days.

      • Tell you what go commit a murder and see if it just slips your mind with the passage of time. Whoops dearie me I must be going senile I completely forgot I committed murder. Raping is not something you just forget similarly spitting on your fingers and inserting into a child’s vagina is hardly going to befuddle ones memory. And the best way to defend yourself is to not do it in first place.

    5. There has been a significant amount of coverage with the consensus view being that everyone – even a dreadful person – is entitled to justice and that justice was not served in this particular case. See for example:

      Essentially, there are no newspaper reports that could be found (after extensive research) corroborating that RH was present at the time of the alleged offence, and the sole witness mis-dated the event, linked it to returning from military service (which he didn’t in fact have), and had a non-disclosed conviction for dishonesty.