Exploring rape conviction rates: consent, false allegations and legal obstacles

AuthorCeara Tonna-Barthet - Caoimhe Hunter Blair
PositionA graduate of Trinity College Dublin (LLB (lingfranc)), is a current BCL candidate at University of Oxford - A graduate of University of Edinburgh (LLB, DPLP) and Trinity College Dublin (LLM), is currently a Supreme Court Judicial Assistant
[2020] Irish Judicial Studies Journal Vol 4(1)
Abstract: In Ireland, the conviction rate for reports of rape involving female victims is extremely low. This
article addresses such low conviction rates relating to the crime of rape and attempts to understand the issues
surrounding it. Analysing society’s view of women in the history of the development of the prosecution of rape,
the disproportionate attention false allegations receive and setting out the obstacles faced when prosecuting rape
are used as the basis for setting out potential practical solutions.
Authors: Ceara Tonna-Barthet, a graduate of Trinity College Dublin (LLB (lingfranc)), is a current BCL
candidate at University of Oxford, and Caoimhe Hunter Blair, a graduate of University of Edinburgh
(LLB, DPLP) and Trinity College Dublin (LLM), is currently a Supreme Court Judicial Assistant.
Sexual offences constitute a very particular type of crime and one that has attracted a broad
range of academic commentary.
Throughout the history of this offence there has existed a
tension between the desire to vindicate the rights of victims, and the fear that false
accusations provoke. This conflict may be reduced, at its simplest, to a barely palatable
example of Blackstone’s ratio, ‘it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one
innocent suffer’.
While this prioritisation of innocence is admirable, and indeed so essential
as to have been judicially entrenched in the Irish constitution,
given the particularity of the
nature of sexual offences and more specifically rape, it has perhaps prompted some perverse
results: in 2019, crime figures from the UK showed that as few as 1.5% of reports of rape
resulted in a charge or a summons;
in statistics obtained from the Central Criminal Court in
2009, only 8% of reports of rape resulted in a conviction;
and more recently, statistics from
the Central Statistics Office confirm that this figure was around 11% in 2018.
In terms of
complaints that reach trial and are prosecuted, statistics obtained from the Central Criminal
Court show that year on year, the chance of achieving a conviction once a rape case reaches
See generally Susan Leahy, ‘When honest is not good enough: the need for reform of the honest belief defence
in Irish rape law’ (2013) 23 ICLJ 102; Susan Leahy, ‘In a woman’s voice: a feminist analysis of Irish rape law’
[2008] ILT 203; Brónach Rafferty, ‘Rape: Struggling with the forces of perception Part 1 and 2’ (2017) 35(13)
ILT 171; Aisling Murray, ‘The Mens Rea of Rape in Ireland: Legal, Moral and Social Consequences’(2017) 27(1)
ICLJ 2; Law Reform Commission, Report on Sexual Offences and Capacity to Consent (LRC 109-2013); O’Malley,
‘The New Law on Sexual Offences’ [2017] 27(3) ICLJ 78; Law Reform Commission, Report on Knowledge or Belief
Concerning Consent in Rape Law (L RC 122-2019); Yvonne Marie Daly, ‘Knowledge or belief concerning consent
in rape law: recommendations for change in Ireland’ (2020) 6 Crim LR 478.
Sir William Blackstone, Commentaries on Laws of England (19th edn, W.E. Dean 1841) 289.
Article 38 of the Constitution; Hardy v Ireland [1994] 2 IR 550; O’Leary v Attorney General [1995] 1IR 454.
Owen Bowcott and Caelainn Barr, ‘Just 1.5% of all rape cases lead to charge or summons, data reveals’ The
Guardian (26 July 2019) <https://www.theguardian.com/law/2019/jul/26/rape -cases-charge-summons-
prosecutions-victims-england-wales> accessed 14 July 2020.
Mary-Louise Corr and others, ‘Country Briefing: Ireland’ (Child & Woman Abuse Studies Unit 2009 )
<https://cwasu.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/ireland.pdf>accessed 11 August 2020.
‘Recorded Crime Detection 2018’ (Central Statistics Office)
rcd/recordedcrimedetection2018/#:~:text=Introduction,must%20be%20identified%20a nd%20sanctioned.>
accessed 14 August 2020.

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