Minister to consider format for rape trials

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THE Home Affairs Minister is considering a potential move toward Jurat trials for rape offences.

Deputy Helen Miles made the comments in the States yesterday when questioned about how the government would address the Island’s low conviction rate.

In January, David Sullivan (28) became the first person to be convicted in two years, after being found guilty by a jury of raping a woman on three occasions.

Deputy Catherine Curtis raised concerns ahead of yesterday’s States sitting that the criminal justice process was ‘not working well’ and said she hoped to see a review of the evidential threshold, the period of time from report to court date and the introduction of legislation to protect rape victims from unnecessary requests for personal records, such as counselling records.

Asked by Deputy Curtis whether the government had plans to review the system, Deputy Miles said she shared ‘the concerns expressed about the number of successful rape convictions’, adding: ‘Clearly something needs to change.’

The Violence Against Women and Girls Taskforce is currently considering the matter and developing recommendations, which it is due to release in July.

Deputy Helen Miles (35458705)

Deputy Miles added: ‘It would be premature to commence a review until those findings are revealed.’

She assured Deputy Curtis that the taskforce and the government would look broadly at other jurisdictions when developing an action plan.

Deputy Sam Mézec referred to a 2018 Scrutiny panel on the Sexual Offences (Jersey) Law, which made recommendations with the intention of building more confidence in the prosecution system in an attempt to increase the willingness of victims to engage in police investigations.

Jersey Action Against Rape chief executive Tracey Le Brocq has cited the evidential threshold and the current low conviction rate as a ‘barrier’ to participation.

Addressing Members yesterday, Deputy Miles said she was ‘not averse’ to reconsidering unadopted recommendations made by the 2018 panel.

One of the proposed amendments not taken forward by the draft law was that Jurats, rather than juries, were more suited to sit on rape and serious sexual offence trials. In Jersey, the defendant can currently choose between a jury or a Jurat trial.

JAAR has expressed concerns that jurors can harbour unconscious bias and are not fully trained on, or informed about, the myths of rape and sexual assault.

Deputy Miles said yesterday that she would ‘consider the possibility that we might move towards Jurat trials for offences of rape and serious sexual assault’.

Deputy Curtis encouraged the minister to prioritise this matter, saying it was ‘of some urgency’.

Deputy Miles responded: ‘We take it very seriously, which is part of the reason the taskforce has been established to get an accurate and in-depth picture of what is happening in the Island and how we can support victims of this crime.’

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