A FORMER judge has said the rape conviction rate will not improve until women stop drinking so heavily.
Judge Mary Jane Mowat – who retired this month – said it is often difficult to secure rape convictions as it is “one person’s word against another”.
And she described criminals only serving half their sentences in prison as “the biggest fraud on the public ever”.
The national rape conviction rate after trial of 60 per cent was partly an “inevitable” result of the lack of corroborative evidence, said Judge Mowat.
In an interview with the Oxford Mail, she said she had presided over back-to-back trials where a female complainant had been so drunk she could not remember what happened.
Judge Mowat, 66, who has worked at Oxford Crown Court, said: “It is an inevitable fact of it being one person’s word against another, and the burden of proof being that you have to be sure before you convict.“I will also say, and I will be pilloried for saying so, but the rape conviction statistics will not improve until women stop getting so drunk.
“I’m not saying it’s right to rape a drunken woman, I’m not saying for a moment that it’s allowable to take advantage of a drunken woman.
- NOTED: Oxford Mail reporter Joe Nimmo interviews Judge Mary Jane Mowat at her home
“But a jury in a position where they’ve got a woman who says ‘I was absolutely off my head, I can’t really remember what I was doing, I can’t remember what I said, I can’t remember if I consented or not but I know I wouldn’t have done’. I mean when a jury is faced with something like that,how are they supposed to react?”
Just 24 per cent of sex trials at Oxford Crown Court resulted in convictions last year, the lowest for at least six years, figures obtained by the Oxford Mail through the Freedom of Information Act show.
The circuit judge of 18 years – who stepped down on August 1 – raised concerns about the automatic release of prisoners on fixed-term sentences half-way through their time.
Prisoners spend the second half of their sentence on licence and if they break any conditions of their release then they can be returned to prison.
She said: “One thing that judges can’t change is the prison regulations, which to me are the biggest fraud on the public ever.
“You get a three-year sentence and in fact it means only one-and-a-half years, it’s automatically one half.
“Now the public were never told this was going to happen, it was done by a sort of statutory regulation. And in fact people are by and large getting out well before that on a home detention curfew on a tag.
“The public are beginning to wake up to it but it has been happening for years, quietly, without it ever being announced.
“So that’s why I say it’s a fraud on the public.
“It has been done to empty the prisons, because they just haven’t got enough places in prisons, they are bursting.”
Oxford Sexual Abuse and Rape Crisis Centre service manager Natalie Brook described Judge Mowat’s comments as “outrageous”.
She said: “Suggesting that rape conviction statistics will not improve until women stop getting so drunk is an outrageous, misguided and frankly dangerous statement to make.
“Rape convictions will improve when those who perpetrate it – who are disproportionately male – stop raping, and when society stops blaming women for somehow being complicit in this act of violence.
“Rape is 100 per cent the fault of the perpetrator, and suggesting otherwise serves only to feed myths that do nothing other than deter women from reporting this crime or accessing the support they need.
“Eighty five thousand women are raped every year in England and Wales and the majority of rapes are committed by partners.
“Yet only 15 per cent of those who experience rape will report to the police.
“With victim-blaming attitudes like those displayed by Judge Mowat it is no surprise that conviction rates remain so low.’’
HISTORIC sex allegations against celebrities highlights the difficulty in providing evidence, Judge Mowat said.
She said: “What I got very angry about were cases where these celebrities were being acquitted and the papers or commentators were saying ‘why was he ever prosecuted, there was no evidence’.
“By which they meant there was no DNA, there was no forensic evidence. Well you’re not going to get it in these cases.
“If it’s a recent case you might get some DNA, you don’t usually get injuries because people are usually too sensible to fight and are usually in a state of frozen fear that prevents them fighting back, which is an aspect of people’s reaction to sexual offences, so you’re not going to get that kind of evidence.
“But to say there was no evidence is just rubbish, because the victim’s account is evidence, and it’s for the jury to decide if they believe it or not.”
MOST NOTABLE CASES
Significant cases at Oxford Crown Court:
- Last year Judge Mowat presided over the case of three directors of Oxfordshire software firm Torex Retail, who were jailed after being convicted of defrauding shareholders. The company’s top accountant Mark Woodbridge was jailed for three years and 10 months after a 14-week trial prosecuted by the Serious Fraud Office.
- Judge Mowat warned of the dangers of young people accessing internet pornography after she sentenced a 14-year-old boy for a “copycat’’ rape committed after he accessed porn using his Playstation. She spared the youth a detention sentence and made him subject to a rehabilitation order and supervision.
- Judge Mowat presided over the trial of former Tory councillor John Morgan, who was convicted after a trial of stealing £154,000 from a pensioner suffering from Alzheimer’s. Morgan, who admitted gambling all the money away in Las Vegas and on fruit machines, was jailed for five years.
CUTS and reforms to the probation and prison service are “becoming dangerous”, Judge Mowat warned.
From next year, most probation work for low and medium-risk cases in England and Wales will be split between a new public body, private companies and voluntary groups.
She said: “I think the situation is becoming dangerous. Obviously we have economic troubles and one approach is to cut spending.
“But I think there are some things that are so basic that they should be exempt, frankly, from wholesale cuts.
“And the criminal justice system, which involves the safety of the public, is one of those things that shouldn’t be cut, in my view.
“I think the situation in some of the prisons is absolutely appalling.
“And I do not know how it is going to work out with the probation service, but I do know probation officers are deeply unhappy about it.”
- ‘INDEPENDENCE AT RISK’
PEOPLE accused of crimes that could land them with prison sentences are among those unable to get a state-funded legal representation because of legal aid cuts, she said.
Legal aid fees in England and Wales have been cut by up to 30 per cent in an attempt to reduce a £2bn-a-year bill. This has led to reports of barristers refusing to take on long or complex cases.
She said: “I’ve had a few people already saying they haven’t been able to get legal aid to be represented in situations where they were facing custodial sentences.
“And it’s going to kill the independent criminal bar, they’re just not going to be able to make a living. In Oxfordshire, as in other places, we now have a lot of barristers who are in-house and employed by solicitors’ firms.
“And that’s all right, but it’s a very great shame that advocates end up only doing one side, only prosecuting or only defending.
“Because one of the great strengths of the bar, we always said, was its independence.
“The fact you could be prosecuting one day, defending the next, and you maintained an independence of mind about things, you didn’t have an allegiance.”
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