I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name. I take this opportunity to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Scotland, and the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General for the comprehensive replies on rape that I have received over the past few days.
The Question was as follows:
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the consultation on rape includes the issue of false accusations.
My Lords, the consultation paper issued earlier this year sought views on whether to reform four different aspects of the law as it affects rape trials, as part of a broader strategy to look for more effective prosecution and support for victims. It does not include any proposals to deal with the issue of false accusations, which, research indicates, represent only a small fraction of the cases reported to the police. I thank the noble Lord for what he said.
My Lords, but should not consultation include a review of statistical data on rape? Why should the rape conviction rate be calculated as a percentage of the total of reported rapes when we know from the Purdue University study in the United States of America that reported rape figures include a high level of false allegations? The Purdue study revealed that 41 per cent of allegations turned out to be false. That was on the basis of admissions by the complainants. Surely the 5.3 per cent conviction statistic in the United Kingdom is fiction and nonsense, and brings criminal justice statistics into disrepute.
My Lords, my noble friend may be surprised to hear that I do not agree with that last remark. I agree that the fact that the level of convictions of reported rape is only 5.3 per cent is a matter of concern. I cannot think that he is suggesting that the balance of those reported cases are false allegations. I certainly do not accept that.
I have taken the opportunity to read the Purdue University report, to which my noble friend has referred before. It was produced 20 to 30 years ago in relation to a small mid-western United States town. I doubt that it has much relevance to here. I also note that, rather surprisingly, the report states that someone thinks that the level of false allegations is 100 per cent. Home Office research much more recently comes up with a much more reasonable figure of 9 per cent or, more likely, 3 per cent.
My Lords, with regard to the level of convictions, to which the noble and learned Lord referred, is he satisfied that the decision to prosecute is on the usual criteria of “more likely than not” that a conviction will be obtained? If more people are prosecuted than convicted, does it not follow that a lot of victims are men against whom false allegations have been made but who are named and shamed in the press nevertheless?
My Lords, the noble Lord draws attention to an important point. Rape is a very serious crime, which undoubtedly many women suffer. It is a difficult allegation to prove because often it is a question of one person’s word against another. That is why, in the consultation paper, we have been looking at whether there are aspects of the law—not the burden or standard of proof; no one is going to touch that—which may mean that those prosecutions can be brought more effectively. We hope to be able to announce the Government’s response to the consultation shortly, and I invite the noble Lord to see what we say then.
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord asked my noble friend Lady Scotland this question on a previous occasion. She said then, and I believe the answer still stands, that it is too early to tell, given when the 2003 Act was brought in. No doubt once there are reliable statistics, we will ensure that they are made known.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that any miscarriage of justice is a tragedy for all concerned? As a result of the consultation, will we see a better conviction rate, for example? Does he agree that most victims of rape are women, and that it is a terrible crime against women? Does he also agree that most women are very reluctant to come forward to report the rape? I hope that the consultation will give support, encouragement and advice to all victims of rape so that they can at least have some satisfaction, if that is the correct word, after the crime that has been committed against them.
My Lords, I agree with the very important points that my noble friend has made. We must strive hard to avoid any miscarriage of justice, but the fact remains, as she rightly said, that a large number of women are real victims of rape who are too afraid or reluctant to report it, and, as a result, prosecutions do not even take place. It is part of our responsibility to give them the confidence to report it so that it can be brought to the courts.
My Lords, I gave those figures for this reason. The report called A Gap or a Chasm? by Kelly, Lovett and Regan looked at the level of false allegations. The police were applying the figure of 9 per cent to their statistics. The researchers examined the cases in detail and thought that the more accurate figure was 3 per cent. That is their preferred figure, but I gave the range for the reason that I have just explained.
My Lords, my noble and learned friend has dismissed the Purdue University research figure of 41 per cent of cases in which the women complainants themselves have admitted that their allegations were false. That is 41 per cent, compared with 9 per cent, compared with 3 per cent. Is there not a huge difference between the statistics, and does that not cry out for some new work to be done to establish what the real statistic is?
My Lords, of course it shows that there is a wide variation in the statistics, as the Purdue University report itself indicated by quoting figures for false allegations ranging from 0.5 per cent to 100 per cent. But, as I have indicated, that was an old report. The Home Office recently commissioned a report, which reported in 2005, and I have indicated to the House the conclusions that it reached.