Elite team of lawyers planned to improve rape conviction rate

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The Independent Online
A CORE of specialist rape prosecutors is to be assembled by the Crown Prosecution Service to improve conviction rates in brutal sex cases.

Lawyers are to be given courses where they meet rape victims in order that they have a greater understanding of the effects of the crime.

They will also be given coaching in cross-examination and investigation techniques used in previous successful rape prosecutions.

News of the programme, which is due to begin next year, comes after The Independent revealed a dramatic rise in so-called date rapes, carried out by men who knew the victim.

Women are now reporting rape attacks at the rate of nearly 18 a day, but many defendants successfully claim that the victim consented to sex, and only 9 per cent of attacks are successfully prosecuted.

A CPS spokeswoman said last night: "This is about building up a core of people to deal with rape cases so that we have a group of specialists we can draw on."

The CPS is working with the police and victim support groups to establish the new courses, the first of which will be based at the Research Centre on Violence, Abuse and Gender Relations at Leeds Metropolitan University.

The curriculum is likely to include lessons on the lasting effects of rape crimes on women and their children.

The lawyers will also be told of the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on victims, so that they have greater sympathy with clients who have taken many months to come forward with accusations.

People taking the course will receive instruction on the use of expert witnesses and in counteracting the common prejudices of juries.

The Leeds programme is being headed by Helen Grindrod QC, who successfully prosecuted in the 1996 rape trials of the millionaire tycoon Owen Oyston and his friend, the model agency boss and former policeman Peter Martin.

She said many prosecutors at rape trials failed to appreciate the extent of the trauma suffered by their client and consequently did not pursue the case with sufficient vigour.

She was particularly concerned at the failure of prosecutors to seek to prevent the victim's previous sexual history being revealed as evidence in court.

"I think that they may know that they have the power to intervene but don't see it as their duty to do so," she said.

Jamal Hanmer, a professor in women's studies at the university, said that lawyers who completed the course would be monitored to see if they went on to achieve a higher conviction rate in rape cases than their counterparts.

Although CPS barristers and solicitors cannot be made to go on the specialist rape courses, those that do are more likely to receive instructions to handle such cases.

Barristers often do not handle their first rape case until they have been practising for 12 years. Their previous experience is often confined to reading about past cases.