Thursday, May 21, 2009

Britain's Attorney General taken to task for calling all rape accusers "victims"

Here are two letters to the editor of the Times Online found here and here. In the first, Britain's Attorney General repeatedly calls rape accusers "victims." In the second, she is taken to task for failing to recognize the reality of false rape claims.

Rape and the CPS

Improving the way rape cases are handled is a priority across the criminal justice system

Sir, As superintending minister for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) I keenly feel any criticism that prosecutors are failing rape victims (“Rape audit to find out why so few win justice”, May 14). There has been a real improvement in how justice agencies work with victims and witnesses, for example the growing number of sexual assault referral centres that bring together all the legal and care agencies and departments in one place.

I would certainly reject the idea that a CPS lawyer would only take on a case that was “200 per cent watertight” — if that were true the conviction rate would be nearer
100 per cent than the current 58 per cent. Prosecutors will explore every avenue to find sufficient evidence to charge, but the verdict has to be left to a jury, the CPS having gone through all the steps to support the victim to give their best evidence.

As you rightly pointed out in your leading article (“The vilest crime”, May 14), the often quoted 6.5 per cent conviction rate is for rapes that are reported but does not account for how many of those are actually able to go as far as a court case.

Can we influence how juries see an alleged rape victim? Yes, to a degree, by building the most informed case we can and being well aware of the myths and stereotypes that surround this crime. Prosecutors now also have the option of pre-trial witness interviews that allow the prosecutor first to assess the reliability of, or clarify, a witness’s evidence; second, to assist the prosecutor in understanding complex evidence; and third, to explain the criminal process and procedures to the witness.

There have been improvements in the conviction rate of cases brought to trial. But nobody who cares about justice could be satisfied with the rate of rape allegations that currently result in conviction. Equally, nobody pretends that all victims get the sensitive and supportive service they deserve. I can assure you that continuing to improve the way rape cases are handled is a priority across the criminal justice system and for me personally.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal
Rape complainants are not always victims

Unhelpful and inappropriate vocabulary will not help improve the rape conviction rate

Sir, We are both practising barristers with extensive experience of defending in rape cases. Those who serve on juries in rape cases will be aware from what they read in the press that rape complainants are not always genuine victims. For while it is probably right that the majority who report rape ordeals to the police have, in fact, been victimised, there is a small but significant proportion who undoubtedly complain falsely and maliciously, occasionally going to cynical lengths to bolster their accounts by, for example, attributing self-inflicted injuries to their alleged attacker. This is reflected in not infrequent reports of prosecutions of false rape complainants for offences of wasting police time and perverting the course of justice when their lies are — often fortuitously — uncovered.

Potential jurors are, thus, apt to be reactive to statements from people in authority — such as the Attorney-General (letter, May 19) — implying that complainants are necessarily “victims”, and to give vent to their scepticism in acquittals that may or may not be merited.

It is, of course, right that efforts should be made to ensure that real victims achieve justice through the conviction of the guilty, but this ambition will not be assisted by pronouncements from those who ought to know better using inappropriate and unhelpful vocabulary when suggesting what needs to be done to improve the conviction rate.

Anthony Heaton-Armstrong
David Wolchover
London WC2