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R v R [1991]

R v R [1991] UKHL 12 was a pivotal legal decision in the United Kingdom, establishing that it is a crime for a husband to rape his wife, effectively abolishing marital rape exemption under common law.

The defendant, R, married his wife in 1984, but their marriage deteriorated. His wife left him in 1989 and expressed her intention to seek a divorce. In November 1989, R broke into her parents' house and attempted to force her to have sexual intercourse with him against her will, also assaulting her in the process. He was arrested and charged with rape and assault.

He was later convicted of attempting to rape his wife but he appealed his conviction, arguing that there was a marital rape exemption under common law, which meant that a husband could not be found guilty of raping his wife. He claimed that by marrying, his wife had given irrevocable consent to sexual intercourse with him, which she could not subsequently withdraw.

The Court of Appeal (Criminal Division) upheld the rape conviction. The Lord Chief Justice Lord Lane delivered the judgment, stating that the marital rape exemption was a common law fiction that no longer reflected the true position of wives in modern society.

The case eventually reached the House of Lords. In October 1991, Lord Keith of Kinkel delivered the leading speech, which was supported unanimously by the other four law lords. They ruled that the marital rape exemption was a common law fiction and declared that in modern times the supposed marital exemption in rape forms no part of the law of England.

The judgment in R v R had a profound impact on English law and society. It effectively abolished the marital rape exemption, recognising that marriage does not equate to irrevocable consent to sexual intercourse. The case was later confirmed in statute law by an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994.

The case marked a significant milestone in recognising the importance of consent within a marriage and ensuring equal protection under the law for all individuals, regardless of their marital status. It reflected the changing societal attitudes and legal reforms related to sexual assault within marriages.

You can learn more about this topic with our Criminal Law notes.

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