The Herald editorial says:
According to retired Court of Appeal Court judge Justice Ted Thomas, the present trial system is “brutalising and distressing” for complainants in sex cases. For that reason, it is unsurprising that many victims of rape are deterred from coming forward. Ways must be found to reverse that and to act on a Ministry of Women’s Affairs study that concluded only 13 per cent of sexual violation cases reported to police ended in conviction.
I agree. But I also note that already the NZ Herald is using the wrong stat from the MWA study. That 13% includes complaints found to be false, and I am sure the Herald is not wanting to imply that there should be more convictions based on false complaints. The figure the Herald should be citing is that only 20% of “valid” complaints led to a conviction.
A core recommendation would allow an accused’s past sex convictions and the complainant’s past complaints to be disclosed. This would address the considerable public disquiet following the acquittals three years ago of former policemen Brad Shipton, Bob Schollum and Clint Rickards on sex charges in the Louise Nicholas case. After the trial, it was revealed that Shipton and Schollum were already in prison after being found guilty in 2005 of the pack rape of a young woman at Mt Maunganui in 1989 – information that could not be disclosed to the jury previously.
Other taskforce proposals include giving judges the ability to direct juries that they may draw an “adverse inference” if an accused opts to stay silent, and to also direct that “beyond reasonable doubt” does not mean “no doubt” the accused is guilty.
In essence three major changes are proposed
- Allowing details of previous convictions
- Allowing a jury to draw an adverse inference from an accused staying silent, and presumably not testifying
- Stressing that reasonable doubt does not mean no doubt
There are reasonable arguments for and against such changes. My position though is that any such changes must apply to all criminal cases, not just sex cases. Why would you give more (or less) rights to those accused of murder, kidnapping, grievous assault, armed robbery etc etc.
It would be seriously unjust that if someone is accused of killing someone they have the right to remain silent, but if they are accused of rape, they lose the right to remain silent (without adverse inferences).
Also why would you have a system which allowed a jury to know someone accused of rape had a previous rape conviction, but not that someone accused of armed robbery had previous convictions for armed robbery?