Questions over the low rate of rape convictions in Jersey

Tracey Le Brocq (35450580)

QUESTIONS are due to be asked in the States today about whether the government will review the criminal justice process for rape investigations – after it was revealed that there were no convictions in 2021 and 2022.

Deputy Catherine Curtis has submitted a written question to Home Affairs Minister Helen Miles, as those supporting sexual assault victims raise concerns that the system needs to change.

She said: ‘It looks like the criminal justice process is not working well, although I look forward to seeing the results of the Violence Against Women and Girls taskforce in July which may help us to understand some of the background.’

Deputy Catherine Curtis Picture: ROB CURRIE. (35450594)

Jersey Action Against Rape chief executive Tracey Le Brocq has called for a review of the evidential threshold which needs to be met to bring a charge.

In the past two years, a total of 113 rape allegations have been made. Of the five which went to court, one was discontinued, while four resulted in not-guilty verdicts.

Earlier this year, 28-year-old David Sullivan became the first person to be convicted in the past two years, after being found guilty by a jury of raping a woman on three occasions. He was jailed for nine and a half years on Friday.

Ms Le Brocq said: ‘We want to encourage people who have experienced this kind of crime to have the confidence to come forward, but this [the low conviction rate] is simply another barrier. After all the turmoil and the difficulty, why would you put yourself through that for another year, let it be taken out of your hands, and give control of the trial to someone else, when there is no chance of a conviction?’

She added: ‘There is lots of room for improvement. There will be a myriad of reasons why that conviction rate is so low, such as the private nature of most rape and attempted rape cases, but the central thing that we need to question is the evidential request. What is the threshold for evidence and what work is the Law Officers Department doing with the police to improve what that evidential test looks like?’

She added: ‘Police should be given proper training to understand evidence tests, and give training to make sure others can understand them too.

‘We should be working with the police and the LOD to improve evidence gathering and how to take [the case] from the point of reporting a crime right through to court, and then, hopefully, conviction.’

The new Violence Against Women and Girls Taskforce is currently reviewing ‘gender-based violence’ in the Island, and Ms Le Brocq said that ‘the taskforce could be extremely successful’ in its review of rape investigations.

However, she added: ‘It’s down to the leadership to make those changes and follow through with the recommendations.

‘All the different agencies should come together and map out the systems we have at the moment and look across other jurisdictions. I encourage them to be bold in terms of trialling a different method or different way of doing things, bring our justice system more into the 21st century.’

Neville Benbow, chief executive of the Law Society of Jersey, commented that ‘the success rate in rape convictions was down to a number of factors, most notably, the strength of the prosecution case and its deployment, the credibility of the complainant and/or witnesses and the strength of the defence case’.

He added: ‘Clearly, it is for a jury of peers to consider the evidence, as presented, and to fairly and objectively determine, beyond reasonable doubt, whether a defendant is guilty of the offence of rape or other serious sexual offence.’

Speaking to the JEP for an article last week, Detective Superintendent Alison Fossey, head of the Criminal Investigation Department, said there was a ‘need to explore ways to improve the end-to-end criminal justice process’.

She added that the challenge was when victims decided not to support the prosecution process from the outset. ‘It is unlikely that the evidential threshold will ever be met without the victim’s support,’ she said.