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UofG law professor calls for judge-only rape trials

By Janka Deák

Professor Fiona Leverick believes jury bias is a large factor behind persistently low conviction rates in rape trials.

CW: mentions of rape/sexual assault

Professor of Criminal Law and Justice at the University of Glasgow Fiona Leverick is calling for radical reform of the Scottish criminal justice system in response to persistently low conviction rates and unwarranted acquittals in rape cases.

Leverick identifies prejudices and false beliefs held by jurors as a key preventative factors to conviction in rape cases, proposing judge-only trials as a way of addressing the problem. Pulling together the findings of mock-jury studies from the fields of law and psychology, Leverick draws a connection between popular ‘rape myths’ and jurors’ failure to convict. According to her study, jurors’ tendencies to victim-blame and dismiss cases based on arbitrary criteria for ‘real rape’ direct deliberations ending in acquittal.

1 in 18 sexual violence cases that go to trial ends with a conviction by jurors. In the 2019-2020 period, only 1 in 7 (12.8%) of reported cases were taken to court, with less than half leading to a conviction, and almost a quarter being found not proven.

Leverick’s proposal would endeaver to address the problem of low conviction rates in sexual violence cases, as well as bring to the forefront the unseen, though prevalent prejudices surrounding rape and sexual violence held by the general public. “A lot of people hold views about how a rape victim will behave which are simply wrong”, she states, highlighting the lack of education on sexual assault as a chief contributor to jurors’ failure to convict.

According to Leverick, judge-only trials would ensure more objective proceedings by separating law and public perceptions of crime in practice. She argues that doing away with jury deliberation would reduce the impact of prejudice on the outcome of rape trials, stating: that “even if judges held prejudices, they have to set out reasons for a decision, which juries do not have to do”.

In response to Leverick’s calls for change, the Scottish Government vows to consult the Parliament on potential legislative changes to increase the protection of victims’ rights in cases of sexual offence come springtime.

Fiona Leverick has been the Professor of Criminal Law and Criminal Justice at the University of Glasgow since 2013. Her chief research interests lie in criminal justice and procedure, specifically jury decision making, the criminal justice system’s reponse to sexual offences, and the prevention of wrongful conviction. Further details about her past and ongoing projects can be found here


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