Politics

Lord Advocate justifies non-jury trials to stop sex cases being swayed by ‘rape myths’

THE LORD Advocate has defended her remarks that the suitability of juries to determine rape cases needs to be examined as she insisted it is not acceptable for a low conviction rate to be blamed on victims not being believed.

Dorothy Bain has called for improvements to ensure victims of sexual offences receive justice and trails are not swayed by jurors believing “rape myths”.

She told MSPs that she has now ordered a “full review of how prosecutors deal with reports of sexual offences” – to be led by Susanne Tanner QC.

Ms Bain added: “The remit of the review will be approved by me in due course and will take into accout the views of victims and agencies from across the criminal justice system.”

READ MORE: Lord Advocate calls for ‘radical’ steps to tackle backlog of sex crime cases

The Lord Advocate was asked by MSPs on Holyrood’s Criminal Justice Committee about her comments given in an interview earlier this month in relation to sexual crimes potentially being tried without juries in order toimprove justice outcomes.

Ms Bain was asked by Holyrood magazine about recommendations by Lady Dorrian on overhauling the process for sexual crimes, including a pilot of non-jury trials.

She said that “sexual crime requires a different and distinct approach”.

Ms Bain added: “Judge-led trials don’t impact on the right to a fair trial [but] we need to look at the suitability of a jury to prosecute a case.”

SNP MSP Rona Mackay pointed to research by Fiona Leverick which she said “found overwhelming evidence that jurors hold prejudicial and false beliefs”.

Ms Mackay added: “We certainly heard, in our private evidence sessions with victims that they felt that there was an element of that that – quite often, you know, they felt the jury might have been prejudiced if the complainer had been drinking etc.”

The Lord Advocate stressed she “wasn’t pursuing a personal agenda” with her remarks, but was instead hoping to initiative a “properly informed, reasonable” debate on the issue.

READ MORE: Lawyers voice concerns over plans for trials without juries

Pointing to her remarks about whether juries are appropriate, Ms Bain said research has revealed “there was a question mark as to whether or not juries were in fact suited for this particular type of case”.

She added: “It was highlighted that the Law Commission in New Zealand actually concluded that they weren’t suitable for these types of cases because of attitudes toward rape victims in relation to, for example, beliefs that blame the victim and the survivor, beliefs that cast doubt on their allegations, beliefs that excuse the accused and beliefs about whatever your rape looks like.

“It was recognised by Fiona Leverick that these beliefs…shows overwhelming evidence that juries just weren’t returning verdicts on the basis of evidence before them. They were too influenced by rape myths.”

The Lord Advocate echoed Lord Dorrian’s appeal that “we question legitimately whether or not juries are the right way to proceed with these very difficult cases” in order to address whether “a proportion of our society” are not receiving justice.

She said: “The conviction rate cannot be ignored, and cannot be explained to me by the fact that women just can’t be believed.

“And the conviction rate in these types of crime is way lower than any other type of crime and something has to be looked at in order to address this issue.”

Previous ArticleNext Article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *