01/02/2006

Date rape case judges 'can influence trial outcome'

A judge's summing-up can influence a jury's decision in date rape cases, a report has suggested.

The research, conducted for the British Psychological Society, presented 168 university students with a date rape scenario, which included a summing-up statement by the judge, and asked them to decide on the guilt of the alleged rapist.

All the students were given the same scenario, but there were two different summings up.

The first statement, taken from an actual statement made by a judge during a rape trial, read: "There is evidence that false accusations are sometimes made. Whilst the motives for making such accusations may be obvious… on other occasions, the woman's motives may be obscure or the real reason for her acting in that way may never come to light."

However, the second statement read: "Some people believe that women make up these accusations to excuse an unwanted pregnancy or for motive such as revenge… The evidence from the courts does not support this, and should such a false claim be made, it would be extremely unlikely to get past the initial police inquiry and the Crown Prosecution Service."

The report said that students who read the guidance questioning women's motives were more likely to suggest that the alleged rapist was innocent, even if they had already stated that they were not supportive of rape myths.

The results also suggested that men were more likely to find the alleged rapist innocent than women and that the judge's guidance questioning the victim's motives had more effect on men, who were more accepting of rape myths than women.

Dr Jacqueline Gray from Middlesex University, who conducted the research, said: "While these findings are based on individual decisions, they suggest the nature of guidance given may influence decision-making in the potentially ambiguous situation of date rape. This suggests that a judge instructing a jury should try to provide unbiased instructions."

(KMcA)


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