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Lawyers Urge States Members to Reject

Key Amendment to Sexual Offences Law

The Law Society of Jersey, which represents the Island’s legal profession, has written to all States Members urging them to reject the Second Amendment to the Draft Sexual Offences (Jersey) Law 201-, lodged by the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel, the impact of which would be to dispose of a defendant’s right to a trial by jury in relation to customary law offences such as rape.

The States Assembly is due to debate the Draft Sexual Offences (Jersey) Law 201- on Tuesday 20 March 2018.

In its letter, while welcoming the Sexual Offences legislation as an important step forward for Jersey, the Law Society has urged States Members to reject an amendment to the Draft Law which would mean that defendants facing charges of rape or serious sexual assault would no longer be able to elect to be tried by jury, with all such cases tried by Jurats. 

The second amendment to the Draft Law followed concerns expressed by Jersey Action Against Rape (JAAR) in relation to what they describe as ‘the extreme difficulty in securing convictions’ in respect of serious sexual offences.  JAAR has suggested that cases of rape and indecent assault should be tried only by Jurats which would, in their view, ‘mitigate many of the issues surrounding existing prejudices in potential jurors’.

However, the Law Society says that the suggestion that the answer to a low conviction rate is to change the mode of trial is wholly misconceived.

Neville Benbow, Chief Executive Officer, The Law Society of Jersey, said:

“The justice system in Jersey has been well served by the jury system; the system works and is far from being broken.  The success rate in convictions is down to a number of factors, most notably, the strength of the prosecution case and its deployment, the credibility of the complainant and/or witnesses and the strength of the defence case.

 The suggestion that Jurats are better placed to deal with rape trials is misconceived.  Jurats are just as likely to acquit if the evidence is weak.  The right to be tried by one’s peers is a fundamental principle of our criminal justice system.  That right is retained for the equally serious offences of murder and manslaughter but, if this amendment is approved, not for rape.  This is illogical.  The right of a defendant to be able to choose between jury or Jurat trial for such offences is important and must, in the interests of justice, be maintained.”  

The letter to States Members can be found here.