Eight out of 10 rape charges tried by British military courts end without conviction | Military
A sex abuse scandal in the submarine service escalated when it emerged that eight out of 10 rape charges tried by military court-martial in the past three years ended without a conviction.
The military justice system heard 53 rape charges between 2019 and 2021, of which only 11 resulted in guilty charges, according to Defense Department figures.
Of the total of 324 charges for all sexual offenses brought before courts martial over the three-year period, 141 convictions were obtained – a 43% conviction rate.
Within the Royal Navy, 62 sexual offense charges were heard by court martial over the three-year period, including rape, sexual assault and voyeurism, of which only 33 resulted in a conviction – a prosecution success rate of 53%.
Last week, the head of the Royal Navy, Admiral Sir Ben Key, ordered an inquiry into “heinous” allegations in the submarine service in response to harrowing testimony from whistleblowers.
Allegations of physical and mental abuse included that a ‘deep rape list’ had been compiled by male submariners, in which women were listed in the order in which they should be raped in the event of a catastrophic event. .
The claims have raised serious questions about the culture and level of responsibility of those who serve in the armed forces. Prior to 2006, servicemen who had committed crimes of murder, manslaughter or rape in the UK had their cases dealt with in civilian courts.
The law was amended to allow military police to investigate past offenses committed abroad as civilian authorities lacked jurisdiction.
Critics claim there has been mission creep. Currently, decisions about where these serious cases are heard are made on a case-by-case basis, with the military justice system normally hearing those where the perpetrator and victim of a sexual offense are serving personnel.
In the three-year period covered by the latest data release, 71% of military police investigations involved alleged crimes that took place in the UK.
There have been repeated calls for this to stop. A review led by Judge Shaun Lyons recommended in 2018 and 2019 that rape and penetrative sexual assault committed in the UK should no longer be heard at courts martial at all, except where the consent of the Attorney General is given.
A report last year from the Commons Defense Select Committee, then chaired by Tory MP Sarah Atherton, further urged the Ministry of Defense to remove rape and sexual assault cases from military tribunals.
Atherton wrote that conviction rates in military courts were “four to six times lower than those in civilian courts.” The latest data from the Crown Prosecution Service shows the conviction rate for rape in civil courts is around 68%.
The Lyons review had cautioned against comparisons between the two services given the higher volume of cases in the civil justice system, as well as the profile of cases.
The Ministry of Defense said a comparison could not be made because the threshold for a case to be tried in a military court is lower than in a civilian court.
However, while testifying before the Armed Services Bill committee last year, the Center for Military Justice, an independent provider of legal advice to serving personnel, pointed out that there remained evidence of worse outcomes for military personnel. rape and sexual assault cases heard in courts martial than those in Crown Court.
John Healey, the shadow defense secretary, said his Tory counterpart Ben Wallace seemed “increasingly isolated” as he refused to accept arguments for reform.
He said: “Testing the most serious offenses in civilian courts would help improve investigations and increase conviction rates. Labor has challenged ministers to make the change. The modernization of the court martial system is long overdue.
“Our plan is based on the government’s review, recommendations from the defense committee and appeals from military personnel and their families.”
A Ministry of Defense spokesperson said: ‘It is misleading to compare the civil and military justice systems, due to the huge difference between the size of the UK population and the much smaller armed forces. A tiny variation in the number of military cases has a huge impact on the percentages.
“That being said, in the military justice system, a much higher proportion of cases go to trial, and the convictions achieved in the military justice system are greater than those in the criminal justice system, when considered as a proportion of the allegations made to the justice police.”