Today her conviction was quashed in London’s Court of Appeal. 26-year-old Newland reportedly wept as the decision was announced, she watched via video link from prison. She has now been released on bail. No date has yet been set for her retrial.
Today three appeal court judges, Lady Justice Hallett, Mr Justice King and Mr Justice Dove, have deemed the original verdict and subsequent conviction to be unsafe. They have found the original trial judge, Roger Dutton, to have not been ‘properly fair or balanced’ in his summing up of the case.
When he sentenced Newland last year Dutton told Chester Crown court that she was ‘scheming’, ‘deceitful’ and ‘highly manipulative.’
This case was as sad and conflicting as it was strange and unprecedented. It centred around the use of bandages by Newland to bind her breasts and a ‘prosthetic penis’ to have sex with her accuser. The court heard that she used a pseudonym ‘Kye’ to complete the disguise of her gender.
Newland’s accuser was told by ‘Kye’ to wear a blindfold when they were together. After around 10 sexual encounters the victim suspected that ‘Kye’ was not who he said he was and took off Newland’s blindfold.
The complexities of the case did not stop there. Newland had created the avatar ‘Kye Fortune’ when she was ten years old, using the identity to speak to girls online as she struggled with her sexuality.
A psychiatrist working on the case found that Newland had five major psychological issues: social anxiety disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, major depression, obsessive compulsive disorder and symptoms of eating disorders.
In Newland’s defence she referred to the sex that she, as ‘Kye’, had had with the victim as ‘consensual’. She said that both she and the victim used role play as a way of dealing with the fact that they were both struggling with their sexuality – which included the blindfold and the dildo. She maintained that her accuser knew she was pretending to be a man.
The case raises many questions about gender dysmorphia, non-binary identity and mental health. It also raises questions about how our legal system approaches these issues.
Today’s decision to quash the original sentence suggests that the way this case was dealt with will now face scrutiny.
The sentence that Newland was given was comparable to the average sentence for a rape case, however it was almost double the average sentence for sexual offences. Some have cited this particular case as an example of so-called ‘gender fraud’ being turned into a ‘witch hunt’. It was felt that the case set a ‘worrying precedent’ and was not properly assessed legally, in part, perhaps, because the law hasn’t quite decided where it stands on such issues. Indeed, with headlines about Newland's appeal ranging from 'Fake Penis Sex Attacker Has Her Conviction Overturned' to 'Bizarre Penis Sex Sex Assault Case' it seems that few of sure of what the appropriate language for discussing this case is.
Whether these questions are properly addressed in the retrial remains to be seen.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.