Juries not to blame for rapists going free
“Contrary to popular belief and previous Government reports, juries actually convict more often than they acquit in rape cases” concludes Professor Cheryl Thomas of University College London in a report published today.
Her report ranges widely, covering all offences and finding juries not guilty of most of the criticisms made of them. It is well worth reading. But the point at which she departs most clearly from past claims and assumptions is in the area of sexual offences and rape.
Her source material is far more comprehensive that that used in earlier assessments, such as the 2005 Home Office report A gap or a chasm? Attrition in reported rape cases, by Liz Kelly, Jo Lovett and Linda Regan of the Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit at London Metropolitan University.
Dr Kelly and colleagues found conviction rates in rapes and attempted rapes of adult females and males brought to court between 1998 and 2002 to range between 21 and 28 per cent (Table 3.2, page 26). Where a full trial took place, they found an acquittal was the more likely outcome than a conviction (57 per cent acquittals, 43 per cent convictions).
They looked in greater detail at 183 cases that resulted in a guilty verdict and compared them with other reported cases, concluding that cases involving under-16s were more likely to result in a conviction (15 per cent) than those involving those between 26 to 35 (6 per cent).
Other studies have claimed that jurors’ prejudicial attitudes to women are what accounts for the low conviction rates.
Professor Thomas finds none of these claims proven. She based her findings on 4,310 jury verdicts in rape cases in 2006-08 across all courts in England and Wales. She found that rape does not, in fact, have one of the lowest conviction rates: juries convict more often than they acquit (55 per cent conviction rate).
This is higher than for unlawful wounding, attempted murder, manslaughter, GBH, common assault and threatening to kill. The overall conviction rate for all offences that go before a jury is 63.7 per cent.
Nor is there evidence of any prejudice against women. Most rape complaints originate from women, and the conviction rate is 54 per cent. But the figure shows considerable variations by age and sex.
Professor Thomas’s conclusion is that a jury’s propensity to convict or acquit in rape cases is not necessarily due to juror attitudes to female complainants.
Of course, her report does not address what happens before a case reaches court, where most of the “attrition” takes place. “There is no doubt that the proportion of rape allegations reported to police than end in conviction is extremely low but it is also clear that this is not due to any widespread jury failure to convict in rape cases” she concludes.