Seeing is Believing, says PCC

Dame Vera Baird.
Dame Vera Baird.

The sexual conduct of complainants in rape trials was raised in court without the correct procedure being followed in seven out of 30 cases examined in a new scheme.

It forms part of a new report by Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner Vera Baird, which highlights how even small changes to court processes based on the observations of a unique scheme of court observers could help improve the rape conviction rate.

The 12 observers, members of the public, watched on a rota basis 30 rape trials at Newcastle Crown Court between January 2015 and June 2016.

The report, Seeing is Believing, was published on Monday. As a result of the observations, changes have already been made to working practices by the Judiciary and the Crown Prosecution Service.

Dame Vera said: “We have called this report Seeing is Believing because it sets out what 12 members of the public have seen and noted.

“These individuals have watched 30 rape trials over 18 months. What they have seen has happened. They had no other purpose but to watch.

“They have no axe to grind, no partiality, and so far as we know none of them had met any of the other observers before they started their work – a bit like a jury.

“We hope that what the observers saw can help our local criminal justice agencies ensure that more trials become like the best ones that were seen.

“We have already passed on some simple information which has made a difference.

“The observers were able to see what participants in the court process will not have seen.”