Persons accused of rape whose cases come to court and are heard by a jury are more likely to be convicted today than 15 years ago, according to an academic study conducted by researchers at University College London (UCL). The research revealed that the conviction rate for cases heard before a jury had risen from 55 percent to 75 percent since 2007. This was commissioned by Sir Brian Leveson, the then President of the Queen’s Bench Division (now the King’s Bench Division) after more than 16,000 people signed a petition in 2018 calling for all jurors in rape trials to be given “compulsory training about rape myths.”
However, the UCL team—led by Professor Cheryl Thomas—analyzed thousands of rape trials and found no evidence that juries were biased against rape complainants. The report found that juries in England and Wales were more likely to convict than acquit a defendant, with this pattern remaining consistent over the last 15 years. Despite this, conviction rates for rape cases overall have fallen to 1.6 percent, meaning that around one in 60 people accused of rape in an official complaint to the police end up being convicted of the charge.
Andrew Cayley, KC, chief inspector of the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said there was a shortage of senior barristers and that too many inexperienced and junior prosecutors were being thrown in at the deep end and asked to take on rape cases. The UCL research (pdf) looked at pleas and jury verdicts for all defendants in the crown courts in England and Wales over the period 2007-2021—amounting to some six million charges. It analyzed 68,863 jury verdicts and found the jury conviction rate for rape was 75 percent—up 20 percent since 2007. The chance of a conviction, compared to an acquittal, was the same regardless of the age or sex of the rape complainant.
The researchers also found that rape was the criminal offence with the highest percentage of “not guilty” pleas at 85 percent, which again had not changed in the last 15 years. Juries also do not acquit young men of rape more often than older men, and the report said this stood “in contrast with a perception that juries are particularly reluctant to convict young men for rape.” Thomas said that these findings have important implications for the government’s Rape Action Plan and the Law Commission’s current review of sexual offence prosecutions.
Ash Patel, Programme Head for Justice at the Nuffield Foundation, which funded the study, said: “There is undoubtedly a crisis in how serious sexual assault and rape cases are dealt with by the criminal justice system. However, this ground-breaking study clearly shows that those problems neither start nor end with juries. Contrary to many people’s views, this study suggests that over time juries have not been overly lenient in their decisions in rape cases, convicting more often than acquitting and returning notably high rates of guilty verdicts in recent years.”
Deniz Uğur, deputy director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said the figures should be treated with caution. He noted that “with only 1.6 percent of cases resulting in charges or summons, the vast majority of rape cases do not reach court in the first place, often due to police and CPS decision making informed by victim blaming, discrimination and rape myths.” Uğur concluded that “looking primarily at the conviction rate of juries doesn’t give the full picture of how our justice system is responding to rape.” The phrase “rape myths” refers to misconceptions about the amount of violence and the severity of physical injury, especially in intimate areas, that a rape victim is likely to suffer during an assault.