UK Judges Try to Block Rape Trial Reforms

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The British newspaper The Guardian reports:

Government plans for changes in the law to boost rape conviction rates are in disarray after the judges who would have to put them into practice told ministers they oppose them.

The Council of Circuit Judges, the influential body representing all 637 circuit judges in England and Wales, has dismissed all the proposals, including a measure to try to make it easier to convict in cases where the victim was binge-drinking.

The plans are the latest attempt to reverse a plummeting conviction rate for rape that has dropped from 33% of reported cases in 1977 to just 5.29% in 2004. But the judges have rejected all the principal proposals, which include:

· A new statutory definition of capacity to consent to sexual intercourse, which would clarify when a woman can be considered too drunk to make the decision.

· The use of expert witnesses in court to help dispel “rape myths” and inform the jury how rape victims are likely to act. Although this routinely happens in the US, judges here believe their use would cause delays and prove expensive, unnecessary and “inappropriate”.

· Showing videotaped interviews with victims filmed when they first go to the police. Ministers said this would bring home to jurors the victims’ distress. But the judges are concerned that this would be too emotive and not help establish the truth of the allegations. They argue that some people are particularly good at faking distress.

The full story appears here.

–Stephanie Farrior

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