Armed Forces rape cases in the UK – the MoD has agreed to look again

08th Jun 2020

Today’s press coverage of a very important development in our judicial review claim, brought on behalf of three service women, survivors of rape, who are challenging the handling of rape cases in the Service Justice System.

Armed Forces rape cases could be heard in civilian courts, after the Ministry of Defence agreed to consider proposals following appeals by victims.

In a letter seen by The Daily Telegraph, it is stated that Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, “has decided to give fresh consideration” to a legal challenge brought by three women who claim that they were victims of rape while serving in the Armed Forces.

The women, two of whom are in the British Army and one who is in the Royal Navy, have begun legal action to prevent rape cases being heard in military courts.

They sought a judicial review after Mr Wallace announced in February that he would not act on the recommendation by Judge Shaun Lyons in his Service Justice System Review, that cases involving rape, murder and manslaughter in the UK be tried by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

If a rape happens between people serving in the Armed Forces it is heard by a court martial however figures show that victims are more likely to see a conviction if the CPS prosecute, rather than the military justice system.

According to MoD figures in the five years to 2019, 129 rape cases were heard at military courts martial, 10 per cent of which resulted in conviction.

During the same period the civilian rate ranged between 57 per cent and 63 per cent, according to figures from the CPS.

Of the three victims who are bringing the legal action, only two made it to court martial and both were acquitted.

One of the victims told this newspaper that “the treatment of my case by the military justice system intensified the trauma of what happened”.

“When you work with your attacker you know and fear that if you don’t report it he might do it again, but then you realise that if you do report it the attitude that you get from the chain of command is ‘well, you know what men are like’,” she said.

“My right to anonymity didn’t really matter either because everyone in our community knew about the accusation and the verdict.”

She added that the jury in her case were all male “and they acquitted my assailant very quickly”.

It comes after Andrew Cayley QC, director of the Service Prosecuting Authority (SPA), told Radio 4’s Law in Action programme last week that where there is a “specific military context” the SPA needed to “retain jurisdiction for these kinds of cases”.

“When these kinds of offences take place, within a closed military community, it has absolutely toxic and damaging effect on everybody, most of all on the victim,” he said.

“Where it takes place in those particular circumstances its important that that goes before a military board, a military jury who will understand much better the effects on the military community of that kind of offending and will make findings and sentencing accordingly.”

In response to his comments the victim said she failed “to see what possible relevance an understanding of military culture can have when deciding on whether someone has been raped or not”.

“I felt that the closed military unit made the board/jury more biased because, beyond the obvious sexism, they could probably relate to him not only as a man but also as someone like them that wore the same uniform,” she said.

Emma Norton, Director of the Centre for Military Justice and the solicitor representing the three women, said: “I hope this proves to be the first vital step in ensuring that victims of rape in the Armed Forces can get a decent shot at justice.

“Now the MoD must make good on its promise to genuinely look afresh at this vitally important and incredibly sensitive issue.

“If the Secretary of State for Defence is serious about wanting to stamp out sexual assaults in the forces, then the simplest and quickest solution is to hand these cases over to the civilian courts.”

An MoD spokesman said: “All sexual offences are unacceptable and will not be tolerated in the UK Armed Forces. Anyone who fails to meet the clear and high standards of behaviour required to serve in the Armed Forces is dealt with robustly, including dismissal and police investigation.”

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