The Guardian (online) yesterday published this article on the recent decision at Edinburgh Sheriff Court, to uphold a civil claim against a man who had previously been acquitted, by a High Court jury, of rape.
The issue of rape complainers seeking damages notwithstanding acquittal of the accused at trial is arising with increasing regularity. This trend serves, if nothing else, to illustrate the parlous position of those acquitted at trial who have, as things stand, neither closure nor confirmation of their innocence.
Where we take particular exception to the reporting of this case, however, is in the prominence given to misinformed opinion and, indeed, naked speculation masquerading as fact in the context of rape conviction statistics.
By way of example:
“Sandy Brindley, of Rape Crisis Scotland, said the rate of prosecutions and convictions for rape in Scotland was very low because of the need in Scottish trials for corroboration and the availability of not proven verdicts.”
Let’s leave aside the twin facts that corroboration is required, for very good reasons, in all Scottish trials, and that there are forms of corroboration available in rape trials in the absence of witnesses. This oft-repeated old chestnut about not proven verdicts is nonsense. If the Crown proves its case beyond reasonable doubt, it wins. If not, the accused is entitled to be acquitted. In any other jurisdiction the hapless recipient of a Scottish not proven would, by definition, be found not guilty. The not proven verdict does not make it easier to secure an acquittal; the test of guilt is there to be met by the Crown. What the not proven verdict does do is to stigmatise the innocent.
“Women’s rights campaigners believe juries make heavy use of not proven in rape cases because they sometimes blame women for what happened or believe they share responsibility for sexual encounters.”
There’s no suggestion of an evidential basis for this belief, but in any event the scenarios envisaged don’t have any logical tendencies towards a not proven verdict that I can see.
It would be nice if supposedly serious journalism took these issues more seriously. The uncritical echoing of empty mantras does not serve the interests of justice.