Dr Dominic Willmott

rape bias amongst jury members

Dr Dominic Willmott and three postgraduate researchers were invited to present their research to the Serious Sexual Offence Judicial Review Committee. The Committee was established earlier this year in the wake of figures showing that rape prosecutions in England and Wales had fallen to their lowest rate in more than five years.

A TEAM of University researchers has provided expert testimony to a Government review that is probing the reasons for low rates of prosecutions and convictions in rape cases.

Dr Dominic Willmott pioneered the use of simulated trials to investigate if and how jurors are susceptible to myths about rape that can make them reluctant to return guilty verdicts.  He is also supervising the work of several postgraduate students who have been carrying out their own researches in the field.

The Serious Sexual Offence Judicial Review Committee, established jointly by the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office, called on Dr Willmott to give evidence.  He was one of a select few academics to be asked and he was joined by three Huddersfield students – Lara Hudspith and Catherine Phillips, who are working towards doctorates, and Caroline Lilley, who is carrying out research for a Master’s degree.

The four travelled to London and took part in a two-hour session, giving evidence to a panel of Government officials.  Dr Willmott gave a presentation on his own work, including trial simulations, and the three postgraduates fielded questions on their projects.

“They asked all four of us about our research, what the findings suggest and therefore what our recommendations are and the changes that need to be made,” said Dr Willmott, who added that he was proud and impressed by the performance of the three students, appearing before a high-powered official committee for the first time.

Catherine Phillips commented: “It was a privilege to see at first-hand the real-world impact this area of research is having.  It reinforced the importance of continuing the research so as to enable positive changes within the judicial system.”

Dr Dominic Willmott's research on jury rape bias highlighted to the Judicial Review Committee Pictured are (l-r) postgraduate students Caroline Lilley, Lara Hudspith and Catherine Phillips with their supervisor Dr Dominic Willmott

Fall in rape prosecutions

The Serious Sexual Offence Judicial Review Committee was established earlier this year in the wake of figures showing that rape prosecutions in England and Wales had fallen to their lowest rate in more than five years.  A 10,000-signature petition increased pressure for a review, and its remit was to investigate reductions in volumes of police referrals, prosecutions and convictions for rape and serious sexual assault cases.

The three University of Huddersfield postgraduates supervised by Dr Willmott are pursuing their own lines of research.

Lara Hudspith has carried out interviews with jurors and barristers and canvassed their views on what reforms could be made in rape cases.  Her work could lead to the development of an intervention – perhaps a video screened to prospective jurors that challenged the myths around rape.

Catherine Phillips and Caroline Lilley have been focussing on simulations, such as mock trials, in order to find out the factors that influence the decision-making process.

It is now expected that their work, with that of Dr Willmott, will help to shape the recommendations of the Serious Sexual Offence Judicial Review Committee when it issues its report.