Review Could Scrap Rape Case Jury Trials
Review Could Scrap Rape Case Jury Trials
The government could consider abolishing trial by jury for rape cases and enforcing stricter rules on sexual consent, as part of planned criminal law reforms. The recommendations are likely to be included in an upcoming review which will assess the way crimes of sexual violence – which overwhelmingly affect women – are investigated and prosecuted.
Women’s rights charities, campaigners and sexual violence victim groups are all set to be consulted for the review.
A re-examination of the use of juries in rape trials has been welcomed by many, with some arguing that the use of juries leaves victims vulnerable to unfair bias and can intimidate women into dropping charges.
MP Ann Coffey urged:
“It is vital the review thinks outside the box and examines whether the jury system is the best way to deliver justice in rape cases.”
The review would consider whether common “rape myths” may be impairing the ability of juries to fairly analyse the evidence and make informed, objective judgements on the merits of each case.
Common “rape myths” include factoring what a victim was wearing, whether they had consumed alcohol with the defendant prior to the attack, and whether they were perceived as sexually promiscuous as a basis for deciding whether they had consented to sex. Some legal academics have expressed concern that these common, prejudiced and false beliefs about rape and consent are leading juries to wrongly discredit victim’s testimony.
98% of reported rapes not prosecuted
The call for broad reforms of the law on sexual violence comes following an “alarming” drop in the number of rape cases prosecuted in recent years. The proportion of reported rapes which resulted in prosecution in England and Wales fell to just 1.9% last year.
As co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition Rachel Krys observes: “Despite a huge increase in the numbers of women reporting rape to the police over the last five years, there has been an alarming recent collapse in the rate of cases being charged.”
Following austerity-inspired cuts to the Crown Prosecution Service and a subsequent delegation of duties from the CPS to police, the number of rape reports which police referred on to the CPS for prosecution has fallen, dropping by nearly 10% in 2017-18.
The number of cases in which the CPS brought formal charges against a suspect also dropped by 23% last year, with the number of trials which led to a criminal conviction similarly falling by just under 12%. In light of these statistics, the Home Office has promised a “cross-sector, end-to-end review into how rape and sexual violence cases are handled across the criminal justice system.”
According to a Home Office spokesperson:
“The review will look at the entire criminal justice system – from police report to conviction or acquittal in court – and make recommendations for change to ensure that victims have the confidence that if they report their crimes, action will be taken.”
Crackdown on “cyber-flashing” proposed
Elsewhere, the government has also promised action to crack down on sexual offences committed via modern technology, with new laws to criminalise the sending of unsolicited sexual images online or by text.
‘Cyber-flashing’ is now a prevalent offence, with 41% of 18-36 year old women having received unwanted sexual images.
Modern technology has fuelled the problem, with some smartphone apps allowing users to send anonymous pictures to strangers in their immediate vicinity, leaving those in trains, restaurants and other public places vulnerable to being exposed to “distressing” and “threatening” explicit images. Last year, the Women and Equalities Committee called for “a new law on image-based sexual abuse which criminalises all non-consensual creation and distribution of intimate sexual images.”
The government has pledged to commission research into working with dating apps to raise awareness of appropriate sexual conduct, and also to look into “what links exist between consumption of online pornography and harmful attitudes towards women and girls.”
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