WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
February 19 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Groundbreaking research contradicts “myths” about jury trials for sex offences 

Groundbreaking research contradicts “myths” about jury trials for sex offences 

Life in the justice gap: illustration from Proof magazine, issue 3. Simon Pemberton

New research from University College London contradicts “widely-held assumptions” about sex offences tried in Crown Courts, disputing claims of juror bias against rape complainants and perceived low conviction rates for rape. The new research shows an increasing conviction rate for sex offences cases over the last 15 years. 

Professor Cheryl Thomas, director of the University College of London’s jury project, shows that conviction rates have been over 50% in all but one year between 2007 and 2021 for rape cases. The rate has increased significantly since 2018, reaching 80% in 2020 and 75% in 2021. All other sex offences peaked at 75% in 2021. This means that juries find defendants of sex offences guilty more often than they acquit them, and the “conviction rate is increasing alongside an increase in prosecutions.” The rate for rape is also higher for other serious crimes such as causing grievous bodily harm and attempted murder. 

Charging levels for sex offences fluctuated over the research period, with a significant fall after 2016. This, however, was in line with, and part of, a “systemic fall in all charging rates” for all offences. Charging levels for all offences was 34% lower in 2021 than in 2007. Rape and other sex offences, while experiencing the same decrease, were being charged at an estimate of 9% higher than all offences throughout the research period.  

Prof Thomas is critical of the government’s “end-to-end” rape review for focusing on what stakeholders “think” happens in rape cases and relying on perceptions rather than empirical data; this will “struggle to be effective” for driving an increase in the number of guilty pleas. 

The research shows rape to have ‘the highest not-guilty plea rate of any type of offence (85%),’ providing ‘important context for understanding how realistic it may be to expect a swift or substantial change in guilty pleas on rape charges,’ Prof Thomas stated. 

‘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 in rape cases,’ Prof Thomas remarked.