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Rape and Sexual Offences:            Chapter 18: Newton Hearings


What is a Newton hearing?

A Newton hearing (also known as the trial of an issue) is held following a plea of guilty to resolve factual conflicts between the prosecution and defence. In R v Newton (1982) 4 Cr.App.R.(S.) 388, Lord Lane CJ identified the methods by which such disputes can be resolved: in some cases by jury verdict, by the judge trying the issue or by hearing counsel (which generally meant that the defence version would be accepted).

When is holding a Newton hearing likely to arise in trials involving sexual offences?

The need for a Newton hearing commonly arises in prosecutions involving child sexual offences, particularly those under sections 5, 6 and 7 of the SOA 2003. Although the child's consent is not an element of the offence it may become an issue in relation to sentencing, Where the defendant says that the child consented, or even instigated the activity, and the complainant says otherwise, a Newton hearing will enable the judge to determine the basis on which he proposes to sentence.

Prosecutors should be alert when prosecuting sexual offences to the situation where although the complainant and the defendant provide conflicting accounts in relation to some of the facts, it is nonetheless appropriate to accept a plea of guilty and to to resolve the outstanding issues by holding a Newton hearing.

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