Leading article: Greater understanding is needed


Something is seriously wrong with our judicial process if only 5.6 per cent of rapes reported in England and Wales result in the defendant being found guilty as charged. That is barely one in 20.

This tiny conviction rate is unsatisfactory from every point of view. It means that many victims, who have often had to pluck up considerable courage to go to the police, are probably not receiving the protection of the law they deserve. It means that the police and the courts are spending time and money on proceedings that have little chance of resulting in a conviction. It also suggests that some of those charged are escaping the prison sentence they should be serving. The attention that David Cameron's recent speech on the subject attracted was proof that not for the first time he had struck a popular chord. For all these reasons, we applaud the Government's decision that juries in rape trials should be given information about the ways in which such attacks can affect the behaviour of the victim at the time and the lasting psychological effects they can have. This, at least, should help juries to appreciate the full gravity of the crime.

There is still some way to go, however, before juries receive their packs. A group of judges, doctors and others has now to consider what information should be supplied and how. This may be necessary, but the whole process seems to lack any sense of urgency while providing ample opportunity for ministers to boast about how actively they are addressing this "women's issue".

It is true that much has changed over the years, mostly for the better, in the way the crime of rape is treated by the authorities. Specialist police units are designed to minimise the further trauma for victims. Police and prosecutors are in general more professional about how they prepare their cases, and some of the most distressing lines of questioning have been closed off. Women, too, are more aware of their rights and readier to defend them.

But official figures also reveal considerable regional variation, both in the number of prosecutions and their success. Unsympathetic judges still make an appearance in court reports. And while we absolutely reject the notion of targets for convictions that way lies subverted justice and a queue of appeals there is clearly a need to bring the worst performers up to the standard of the best.

More information should not do anything to make jurors less inclined to err on the side of presuming innocence. "He said, she said" scenarios are inherently difficult to judge. But if the initiative helps to narrow the gap of comprehension between those who have suffered rape and those who have not, it will make a valuable contribution.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

Business Intelligence Specialist - work from home

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established and growing IT Consultancy fir...

IT Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Nigel Farage has urged supporters to buy Mike Read's Ukip Calypso song and push it up to the No 1 spot  

Mike Read’s Ukip calypso is mesmerisingly atrocious — but it's not racist

Matthew Norman
Shirley Shackleton, wife of late journalist Gregory Shackleton, sits next to the grave of the 'Balibo Five' in Jakarta, in 2010  

Letter from Asia: The battle for the truth behind five journalists’ deaths in Indonesia

Andrew Buncombe
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells