THE LAST DITCH An Englishman returned after twenty years abroad blogs about liberty in Britain
Rape Conviction Rates

Government to unveil rape law reforms

Link: Government to unveil rape law reforms | Special reports | Guardian Unlimited.

Justice_thumbnailOn my reading list before my first year studying law was a great little book called Straight and Crooked Thinking by Robert Thouless. It did me more good than any other book I read at that time. I may have to buy a copy for every journalist at the Guardian as a Christmas present. Just look at all the loaded language in the linked report.

"Reform" itself is a loaded word, suggesting that a bad law is about to be made better. Given that we haven't seen the draft yet, that's a little premature. "Unveiling" suggests that what it about to be revealed is appealing. The dance of the seven veils by Hazel Blears would not, after all, draw much of an audience.

Briefing juries on the "psychological effects of rape" is only relevant if a rape has actually been committed. That is - lest we forget - what the jury is there to decide.

Consider also the use of the word "improve" in the context of the conviction rate. Would a 100% conviction rate be perfect? Only if every allegation of rape were true and if every accused had been correctly identified. It is true that conviction rates are higher in some other countries than in the UK. It is also true, however, that there are fewer accusations of rapes in those countries. Perhaps people there make the accusation, or prosecutions are brought, only when there is a good chance of a conviction? Perhaps the legal protection of those making the accusation in Britain, and the societal pressure on police and prosecutors to take unsupported allegations seriously, has led to the rise in reporting of rape, rather than any increase in the crime itself? If this is true, then the conviction rate may as easily be too high as too low.

Rape is an horrific crime. It is also a terrible crime of which to be accused. The only "perfect" conviction rate is 100% of those who are guilty, which is - sadly - very difficult to achieve. Rape is always a problematical crime, not least because the chances of it being witnessed are low. The common sense of ordinary men and women on a jury is far more likely to help here than the lobbying of pressure groups. If I were falsely accused of rape, I would be much happier for my fate to be decided by a jury which had not first been schooled to believe that my accuser's evidence was intrinsically superior, or fitted a particular psychological profile.

In any crime, it is dangerous to focus on the conviction rate. It is crooked thinking indeed to see a higher conviction rate as "success." It is particularly dangerous to do so when, as in Britain, the courts protect the identities of those who make false accusations. The only sensible way to go in rape cases is surely to protect the identities of both accuser and accused until after the case is decided and all appeals exhausted?