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Jurors to Hear More About the Pasts of Those Accused of Rape

Jurors to Hear More About the Pasts of Those Accused of Rape

Rape defendants

Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has argued that a change in the way that rape trials are conducted is necessary in order to avoid the high number of acquittals currently seen in the UK courts.

As such, she has proposed some new guidelines for rape trials in the UK. Male defendants accused of rape are to have their histories and behaviour prior to the alleged assault presented to jurors more extensively so as to provide jurors with a better idea of the character of the defendant. The social media history of alleged attackers will also be drawn upon so that jurors can get a better sense of the character of the accused and the views that they hold. Saunders hopes that such a change in guidelines will lead to better conviction rates of sexual offenders.

Tackling cases that are harder to prosecute

Speaking to London’s Evening Standard, Saunders explained her intentions in greater detail.

“We are looking at how to prosecute certain types of cases, the more difficult ones. They tend to involve drugs or drink and people who know each other . . . If it’s about drink and drugs in some of them there will have been a targeting element, either by buying drinks or standing back until you pick someone off.” She added: “Some of it will be if you have already been in a relationship, understanding the dynamics of coercive and controlling behaviour and presenting cases in a way that doesn’t just look at the individual incident.”

The flaws in current guidelines

The new guidelines stipulated by Saunders draw attention to several flaws with the legal system’s current approach to rape trials. While there has reportedly been a significant rise in the number of rape cases resulting in a conviction, rape is still a crime with low conviction rates; every year, 23,000 rapes are reported to the British police, yet only around 3,000 of those crimes which are reported end in the prosecution of the alleged assailant.

Concern over male rapists going unpunished for their crimes is increasing, due to the ease with which they can convince jurors that sex was consensual under the current guidelines.

Many observers have been critical of the ways in which standard rape trials are conducted, with often the onus being placed on the victim and her behaviour – it is the victim’s past behaviour and sexual history that is called into question and analysed, rather than the accused’s.

Footballer case “set rape trials back by 30 years”

The re-trial of footballer Ched Evans, who was accused of raping a woman in a hotel room on a night out, last year highlighted issues around the exploration and scrutiny of a woman’s past sexual history in court. Evans was acquitted at the re-trial after testimonies were shared by two new witnesses about the alleged victim’s sexual behaviour. During the retrial, the jury heard evidence from two men who had intimate relationships with the complainant around the time of the alleged offence of which Evans had previously been convicted. Both men outlined “sexual behaviour” similar to that which Evans said he had observed during his encounter with her.

As a result, 40 Labour MPs demanded that regulations be tightened on the prohibition of courts using complainants’ sexual histories to ‘disprove’ their claims. The former solicitor general Vera Baird argued that the use of the complainant’s sexual history to discredit her claims “set rape trials back by 30 years.”

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