Juries in rape trials may have to be scrapped amid “shockingly low” conviction rates and the dominance of victim-blaming “rape myths”, a Labour MP will warn.
Ann Coffey, MP for Stockport, says that despite a greater willingness by survivors to report, the criminal justice system is “failing to keep pace” as she calls for better public understanding of sexual consent.
She will today urge ministers to launch an independent inquiry into the “crisis” around the way the courts, Crown Prosecution Service and police handle rape cases.
Latest figures from the CPS show the volume of suspects charged with rape dropped 23% to the lowest levels in a decade. Meanwhile, reporting rates have soared 150% to 41,000 over the past five years.
Prosecutions for rape have fallen by 13% and convictions have seen a 12% decrease. Referrals of rape cases by police to the CPS also fell by 9% in 2017/18.
Labour MP Sarah Champion has previously blamed the fall on police forces facing government cuts.
There are still huge gaps in the public understanding about what sexual consent actually means. Juries take these attitudes into the courtroom with them Ann Coffey MP
Coffey will call for a review into whether juries are the best way to deliver justice in rape cases, as she will suggest that jurors are less likely to deliberate based on evidence, but more likely to be swayed by rape myths or the look of the alleged victim or defendant.
“Rape myths” include victim-blaming beliefs that a survivor who was drunk at the time of the assault cannot complain, or a misconception that rapes are carried out “by strangers in alleyways”, Coffey will say.
“Research shows that stereotypes about how rape victims are expected to behave remain prevalent in society – and by extension in juries,” Coffey is expected to tell Westminster on Wednesday.
“There is still a lack of understanding about why a woman might not report an assault immediately, or might not fight or how a victim of a sexual assault might behave in the immediate aftermath of an attack.
“There are still huge gaps in the public understanding about what sexual consent actually means. Juries take these attitudes into the courtroom with them.”
She will warn of a “perfect storm” in which a reluctance of juries to convict young men of rape could make the CPS reluctant to prosecute and “the police therefore reluctant“ to refer cases.
“The danger is we will be thrown back to the dark days where victims of abuse are silenced and dare not speak out,” she will say.
Less than a third of prosecutions brought against men aged 18 - 24 result in a conviction - which is lower than that for older men, a figure which stands at 46%.
Unsuccessful prosecutions are mainly down to jury acquittal, which occurs in 60% of cases.
It comes as retired senior judge Sir John Gillen called for members of the public to be excluded from rape and sexual offences trials in Northern Ireland.
The recommendation is one of more than 220 made in the Gillen report reviewing the way rape cases are handled, after two Irish rugby international players were acquitted of rape charges in Belfast earlier this year.
The recommendations include only allowing close family members of the alleged victim and defendant to attend court, as well as mainstream media outlets.
Other recommendations include creating new laws around the inappropriate use of social media to prevent the names and images of the alleged victim being spread, and combating rape myths and stereotypes.
The report also called for judicial powers to control online access during trials, and creating new offences for jurors who breach judicial guidance.
Gillen said: “Confidence-building measures for complainants who fear the cruel glare of public exposure, particularly in high-profile trials in front of packed public galleries, are now vital.
“If we are to challenge the gross under-reporting, high dropout rates and an unacceptably daunting trial process, I consider the arguments in favour of restricted access measures carry convincing weight.”
The public is already excluded in the Republic of Ireland, New Zealand and Australia.