Prima Facie: Reflections on a Failing Justice System

Award-winning play featuring music by Self Esteem, Prima Facie, by lawyer-turned-playwright Suzie Miller, explores the need for systemic change in the approach of the British legal system to sexual assault cases. Killing Eve’s Jodie Comer makes her West End debut in this striking one-woman show as Tessa, a young barrister who fundamentally believes in the power of the law to bring justice. Comer’s energy never falters in her masterful performance of all characters, seamlessly switching between accents. The set begins as a barrister’s chambers, complete with leather chairs, oak tables and floor-to-ceiling case files, but Comer rearranges the set herself for each scene.

Tessa works her way up from working-class origins to become a criminal defence barrister at the top of her field. Her passion for the law is founded in a belief in “legal truth”, whatever can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. However, her perspective changes when she finds herself on the other side of the witness stand and begins to lose faith in the patriarchal legal system, which views any trauma-induced inconsistency as proof of a false testimony. We are shown the painful lived experience of a sexualt assault victim and the distressing process of continually reliving the experience before and during the trial.

Prima Facie sparks interesting conversations surrounding the failings of this process to support women and to accommodate for the impact of trauma on their recollection of the assault. Despite high rates of rape and an increase in reporting in recent years, charging and conviction rates remain among the lowest since records began. Shockingly, 5 in 6 rapes against women are carried out by someone they already know and not only are just 1.3% of rapes prosecuted, but in the first 9 months of 2021 the average time between offence and court hearing was over two and a half years.

Prima Facie partnered with The Schools Consent Project, a charity dedicated to educating and empowering young people to understand and engage with the issues surrounding consent and sexual assault. Their volunteers lead workshops around the legal definitions of consent and assault in secondary schools and youth groups.

You can access more information on the issues raised in this article from Rape Crisis Scotland, who work towards the elimination of all forms of sexual violence and sexual misconduct, on their website https://www.rapecrisissctoland.org.uk or by calling the National Rape Crisis Helpline on 08088 01 03 02. For the university’s advice on reporting sexual assault and accessing support, please visit: https://www/st-andrews.ac.uk/students/sexual-misconduct.


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