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Juries in rape cases more likely to convict than acquit

By Monidipa Fouzder >>

(21 February 2023)

Juries in rape cases are more likely to convict than acquit a defendant, according to landmark research analysing nearly six million charges and every verdict reached between 2007 and 2021.

The research, conducted by UCL’s Professor Cheryl Thomas, was commissioned by HM Judiciary after a petition was submitted to parliament calling for all jurors in rape trials to complete compulsory training about rape. The petition, signed by 16,445 people, stated that research showed jurors accepted commonly held rape myths, resulting in many incorrect not guilty verdicts.

Thomas analysed almost six million charges against defendants, including 68,863 jury verdicts, between 2007 and 2021.

The analysis found that in 2021, the jury conviction rate for all rape charges was 75%, up from 55% in 2007. The jury conviction rate for all sexual offences rose from 58% in 2007 to 75% in 2021. Rape offences have the highest not guilty plea rate of any offence, which has consistently been the case for 15 years. The average jury conviction rate for rape was 58% – higher than for other serious crimes such as threatening to kill (33%), attempted murder (47%), GBH (48%) and manslaughter (48%).

Thomas said: ‘These findings have important implications not just for the government’s rape action plan and the Law Commission’s current review of sexual offence prosecutions. They are important for all rape complainants. Knowing the truth about jury decision-making in rape cases is important for anyone who may be reluctant to continue with a case through to trial because they incorrectly believe that juries are unwilling to convict the accused.

‘It’s clear that there are serious problems with how rape complaints are handled by police and how long cases take to reach court. But juries are not responsible for this. They can only decide the cases put to them, and this research shows that if rape complainants can put their evidence to a jury, they have a good likelihood of securing a conviction.’

The research has been published in the Criminal Law Review today.

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)