Barbara Hewson has been critisised for her comments about Stuart Hall's conviction (Hardwicke Chambers /Reuters)
Barbara Hewson has been critisised for her comments about Stuart Hall's conviction (Hardwicke Chambers /Reuters)

A prominent human rights barrister has called for the age of consent to be lowered to 13 in the wake of the Jimmy Savile sex scandal.

Babara Hewson, writing in online magazine Spiked, said lowering the age was necessary in order to stop the "persecution of old men".

The barrister at London chambers Hardwicke also called for the anonymity of sexual abuse complaints to be lifted and the described the crimes of disgraced BBC broadcaster Stuart Hall as "low level misdemeanours".

Breweres also criticised the "moral do-gooders" at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) and the National Association for People Abused in Childhood (NAPAC) for "seeking to stamp out their version of sexual misconduct by force of the criminal law".

Her comments were made in the wake of the ongoing Operation Yewtree investigation, looking into sexual abuse allegations against Savile and others, and the conviction of former sports commentator Hall for indecently assaulting girls as young as nine.

High profile names such as Freddie Starr, Max Clifford, Gary Glitter, Jim Davidson and Rolf Harris have been arrested as part of the investigation into historical child abuse.

A grotesque spectacle

In the article, Hewson said: "Ordinarily, Hall's misdemeanours would not be prosecuted, and certainly not decades after the event.

"What we have here is the manipulation of the British criminal-justice system to produce scapegoats on demand. It is a grotesque spectacle.

"It's time to end this prurient charade, which has nothing to do with justice or the public interest."

She also compared the Yewtree arrests to a witchhunt that "echoes the Soviet Union".

Hewson added: "As for law reform, now regrettably necessary, my recommendations are remove complainant anonymity, introduce a strict statute of limitations for criminal prosecutions and civil actions and reduce the age of consent to 13."

She added touching a 17-year-old's breast, kissing a 13-year-old, or putting one's hand up a 16-year-old's skirt are not comparable to rape or murder and "anyone suggesting otherwise has lost touch with reality".

The NSPCC, who are working with Metropolitan Police in Operation Yewtree, described Hewson's views as "outdated and simply ill-informed".

Peter Watt, director of the NSPCC helpline, said "Stuart Hall has pleaded guilty to abusing children as young as nine years old, we think most people would agree that crimes of this nature are incredibly serious. Thankfully the law, and most people, are very clear on this matter.

"To minimise and trivialise the impact of these offences for victims in this way is all but denying that they have in fact suffered abuse at all. Any suggestion of lowering the age of consent could put more young people at risk from those who prey on vulnerable young people."

Hardwicke Chambers said they were "shocked by the views expressed" from Hewson.

The firm added: "We did not see or approve the article pre-publication and we completely dissociate ourselves from its content and any related views she may have expressed via social media or any other media outlets."

Hewson is regularly ranked as a Leading Junior by The Legal 500 in the fields of Public & Administrative Law, Human Rights & Civil Liberties, and Professional Discipline and Regulatory Law.