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‘A carefully designed pilot scheme of juryless rape trials makes perfect sense.’ Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images
‘A carefully designed pilot scheme of juryless rape trials makes perfect sense.’ Photograph: Bloomberg/Getty Images

We should study live juries to improve rape trials

The ban on studying real juries should end, says says Dr Lewis Ross, while Pete Stockwell writes in support of Nicola Sturgeon’s backing for a pilot of judge-only rape trials

Nicola Sturgeon argues that we should remain open-minded about the Scottish government’s pilot for juryless rape trials (We don’t know if jury-less trials will convict more rapists, but don’t shut down the debate, 15 May). In my view, the government itself has not been open-minded enough. The premise behind juryless rape trials is that juries are declining to convict because they believe rape myths. However, the research supporting this claim was not conducted on real juries. Since studying live juries is illegal, researchers have to make do with second-best evidence – paying people to take part in make-believe trials involving actors. These “mock trials” have no real-world importance and so we shouldn’t blindly trust that people act the same in real-life cases.

A truly open-minded approach would end the ban on studying live juries. Letting researchers study real juries as they make decisions would allow our policymaking to be guided by scientific evidence. Forbidding research on live juries is a familiar conservative orthodoxy. But the importance of the debate about the justice deficit in sexual assault trials demands fresh thinking.
Dr Lewis Ross
London School of Economics

Victims of rape have been let down for decades, and I’m with Nicola Sturgeon: a carefully designed pilot scheme of judge-only rape trials, informed by research that found “overwhelming evidence” of juries and their verdicts being influenced by rape myths, makes perfect sense.

One of the likely benefits of a juryless trial is that an experienced judge will be better equipped than inexperienced members of the public to resist rape myths, and less susceptible to the sophistry of barristers who employ them.
Pete Stockwell

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