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Half of jurors in rape cases reach guilty verdict before deliberation

Juries not necessarily offering ‘fair and impartial assessment’ of evidence, says researcher

12 September 2017

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Almost half of jurors will come to a guilty verdict before deliberation in rape cases, a study by the University of Huddersfield has found.

The research revealed that 43 per cent of jurors chose a guilty verdict prior to deliberation, with that figure rising to 83 per cent for those with personal experiences of sexual victimisation.

The study, conducted with guidance from Manchester-based chambers St John’s Buildings, queried the predictive relationship between jury make-up and their verdicts in rape cases.

As a result of the findings, researcher at Huddersfield University Dominic Willmott has called for better screening of jury members in rape trials.

“This research shows that for all the best efforts of the courts, juries are not necessarily offering a fair and impartial assessment of the evidence, particularly within rape cases,” he said.

“Even before the case has begun, jurors’ psycho-social make up predisposes them towards particular verdict decisions, making a vetting system for juries increasingly important. By implementing such a system, we can reduce existing bias from juries, which should result in a greater number of fair outcomes.”

However, 13 per cent of the jurors studied changed their decision following discussions with fellow jurors, indicating that victims were able to recognise their pre-existing bias.

The study found that educational background was significant in predicting verdicts, with lesser-educated individuals more likely to vote not guilty.

The study contended that those educated to degree-level or above were less likely to hold sexually aggressive attitudes.

Other trends included men exhibiting a greater preference for the defendant’s version of events, while women more frequently identified with the victim.

Jurors from BAME communities were also found to align more with the defendant when compared to those who identify as white British, suggesting a greater likelihood of a not guilty verdict.

It took 400 volunteers selected randomly from the electoral roll and replicated a trial environment to assess how attitudes, backgrounds, and perceptions can impact on verdicts.

Barrister at St John’s Buildings Nigel Booth helped compile case documents for the research and oversaw mock trials, playing the role of the judge.

He said the research asked “very serious and difficult questions about the fairness of jury trials in rape cases”.

“For many years, judges have been warning juries against viewing the evidence through the lens of ‘stereotypes’, however this research suggests these directions are not having the desired effect,” he added.

Of those that took part, 7.4 per cent reported that they had personally been a victim of a sexual offence, including sexual assault and rape.

Advanced analysis on the data found that jurors with personal experience of sexual victimisation were four times more likely to convict in court, prior to deliberations taking place.

According to Ministry of Justice statistics, 1,297 convictions were secured in 2015, representing less than 4 per cent of all cases recorded by police over the 12 months.

Hannah Gannagé-Stewart, reporter

hannah.gannage-stewart@solicitorsjournal.co.uk

Categorised in:

Crime Courts & Judiciary