Is the law serving rape victims?

Yesterday’s Education Guardian published an absorbing interview that Professor Jennifer Temkin, one of the country’s leading experts in rape law, gave to journalist Chris Arnot. During it, she rattled off a couple of statistics so jaw-droppingly staggering that they left yours truly stunned and speechless with shame. Her subject was how victims of are treated by the law. 

Only 5.6% of British women who take their complaint to the police see their assailant convicted. Many more decide to keep quiet rather than go through the humiliation of being interrogated in the dock.

Is it any wonder that some women decide to keep quiet? When you see figures like that, the wonder is that that many some forward. Surely the victim of any crime for which the perpetrator has been identified would want better odds than that before the willingly subjected themselves to harsh treatment they are bound to get in the courts, especially from a defence which must do its job?

So what about the paltry few cases that do make it to court?

For those cases that do, the UK conviction rate is little over 20%, the lowest of any European country except Ireland. 

It is really not an impressive conviction rate, is it?

One problem is that defence barristers have frequently ignored rules, brought in six years ago, about bringing up a defendant’s sexual history in court. And judges have allowed them to get away with it. “I interviewed 17 judges in depth,” says Temkin, “and half of them didn’t know that the use of such evidence is outlawed save in exceptional circumstances.”

This statistic possibly tells you just how seriously the judiciary is taking rape law. In fact what it actually also tells you  is that perhaps a part of law is not being taken all that seriously by anybody. 

Just consider for a moment what would happen if a judge were found wanting to the same degree in any other area of law. I doubt very much that we (or our society) would as tolerant as we seem to be about judges not being fit to handle in rape cases. I firmly believe there would be a great many people up in arms and demanding that m’Lud’s fitness be called into question. Such a judge would be asked to refrain from practicing in areas of the law for which he or she is so manifestly ill-equipped.


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