Plan to dispel rape myths
Rape convictions have fallen dramatically in the last 30 years.
Also In The News
Fernando Torres scored twice and Steven Gerrard added a penalty as
Thursday, 29, Nov 2007 10:33
Juries will be instructed in the typical responses of rape victims in an effort to dispel "myths" thought to have led to a fall in conviction rates.
A package to educate juries will be developed next month by a team of judges, doctors and academics, the solicitor general Vera Baird confirmed yesterday.
The reforms were announced yesterday in a bid to tackle a conviction rate for the crime which has dropped from 33 per cent of reported rapes in 1977 to only 5.4 per cent in 2005 (with a slight rise to 5.7 per cent last year).
Jurors will be told why rape victims are sometimes slow to report an attack as well as being informed of the reasons for a seemingly unemotional display when in the witness box.
"Juries sometimes find it difficult to understand why a rape has not been reported to police immediately when, in fact, it can take victims some time to decide to make a complaint," said Ms Baird.
"Juries can think that she [the victim] will be upset and very emotionally raw when she relives the episode for the court when, in fact, post-traumatic stress makes people seem unemotional and almost matter-of-fact."
Ministers had initially mooted the idea of expert witnesses being called upon to inform jurors on how rape victims behave, but this idea was called a "minefield" by critics.
The reforms unveiled by Ms Baird also include the lifting of restrictions on the admissibility of 'hearsay' evidence - incidences in which the rape victim confided in a friend or relative - and plans to allow victims to substitute a videotaped interview with police for their initial court interview.
Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, welcomed the proposals but said they "will not by themselves lead to a significant improvement in the conviction rate as most cases fail long before they get to court".
"Responses to allegations of rape need to improve across the whole criminal justice system and wholesale reform is needed to tackle the failures in the investigation and prosecution of rape cases," she added.