Over the period 2007 to 2021, the jury conviction rate for all rape charges stood at an average of 58%, with a high of 75% in 2021, according to new research published in the Criminal Law Review. In 2007, the jury conviction rate was 55%. This research was commissioned by senior judiciary following public concerns that the jury conviction rates for rape were extremely low, and analysed 5,623,800 criminal charges from January 2007 to December 2021, not just including sexual offences.
As highlighted in the research, “conviction rates” as a concept are often hard to quantify. An estimate of a 6% conviction rate for rape is often cited, with little to no basis. As Baroness Stern commented in 2010; “it is clear to us that the way the six percent figure has been able to dominate the public discourse on rape, without explanation, analysis, and context, has been to the detriment of public understanding and other important outcomes for victims”.
This new research calculates a jury conviction rate based on the number of rape charges where a jury deliberates and reaches a verdict of guilty on that specific charge. The rate is on charges of rape, not defendants – as previous research has shown, 63% of the time juries are asked to reach multiple verdicts for a single defendant.
The analysis uses data provided by the Ministry of Justice, comprising 5,623,800 criminal charges over the period January 2007 to December 2021. In that period, 87.2% of criminal charges were for non-sexual offences. Rape charges made up 2.5% of the total, with other sexual offences 10.3%.
Not Guilty Pleas
Rape has the highest not guilty plea rate compared with other offences in this period, at 85%. In 2007 this stood at 81.94%, and 91.06% in 2021. In comparison, the not guilty plea rate for homicide-related charges is 68%, non-fatal offences against the person 40%, and drug-related offences 17%.
According to the paper, this not guilty plea rate of 85% has been the case consistently for the fifteen-year period.
Rape Jury Conviction Rate
In 2007, the jury conviction rate stood at 55%. In 2021, that had risen to 75%. The average over the fifteen-year period was 58%. This is higher than other serious crimes, including s.20 GBH at 49%, and s.18 GBH at 48%.
The paper identifies ten individual type of rape offences, differentiating by age of complainant, sex of complainant, and whether the offence is charged under Sexual Offences Act 1956 or Sexual Offences Act 2003 (SOA). The jury conviction rate varies between type, but in all cases, juries are more likely to convict than acquit. Over the fifteen-year period, the lowest jury conviction rate at 50.40% was for a rape of a female aged 16 or over under SOA 1956 (therefore historical charges). The highest at 71.64% was for rape of a male child under 13 by a male, under SOA 2003.
The jury conviction rates for rape follow the 15-year pattern for all sexual offences, which has also steadily increased. The jury conviction rate for sexual offences in 2007 stood at 58% and increased to 75% in 2021.
The paper aims to investigate an often-held belief that rape allegations are charged at a lower percentage of those reported compared to other crimes, and that the percentage of rape allegations charged has fallen in the last couple of years.
In the fifteen-year period between 2007 and 2015, 141,596 rape charges were dealt with in the Crown Court, resulting in 68,863 jury verdicts by deliberation. This amounted to 48.6%. Across the period, the charging level fluctuations in rape cases mirrors the fluctuations in the total number of charges in the Crown Court for all offences. This includes the fall in charges since 2018. In 2021, in comparison to 2007, charging levels were 34% lower for all offences, 8.5% higher for all sexual offences, and 9% higher for all rape offences.
The research also demonstrates that there has been a 75% increase in jury verdicts on rape charges since 2007. In 2007, juries returned verdicts on 3,200 charges. This increased to 5,616 rape charges in 2021. The average in the period was 4,590.
This paper, in combination with its sister paper debunking the belief that juries are swayed by rape myths, demonstrates empirical evidence about what happens in rape cases. This analysis of jury verdicts provides important evidence for the police, CPS, and complainants in approaching rape cases. As highlighted in the paper, any parliamentary ‘Action Plan’ based on what is perceived to happen in rape cases will be less effective than one based on what actually occurs.
However, the fact remains that many rape complainants end up withdrawing from investigations and prosecutions. The End-to-End Rape Review reported that one in two rape complainants withdraw from investigations, yet the reasons for those withdrawals have not been empirically measured (even to the extent they could be). This research, although shedding light on the jury process, does not counter public perception of the number of cases that are reported to the police as a percentage of total occurrences, and of them, which go to trial.
This report does go some way to dispelling the myth that juries do not convict on rape charges, yet there is further research to be done.
 Cheryl Thomas, Juries, rape, and sexual offences in the Crown Court 2007 -21, Criminal Law Review (2023), 3, 200-225
 The Stern Review, A report by Baroness Vivien Stern CBE of an independent review into how rape complaints are handled by public authorities in England and Wales (2010).
 Cheryl Thomas, Are Juries Fair? (London: The Stationery Office, 2010), Ministry of Justice Research Series 1/10
 Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, The end-to-end rape review report on findings and actions (2021), CP 347