Nearly half of all juries in rape cases come to a guilty verdict before they retire to the jury room to deliberate, research shows.
The study found that 43 per cent of jurors came to their decision in advance, with the figure as high as 83 per cent if they themselves had been the victim of a sexual assault. However, the jury room deliberations did have an impact, with 13 per cent changing their minds after discussion with fellow jurors.
The research also showed that a juror's educational background had significant implications for verdicts. Those who never made it to degree level were more likely to vote "not guilty" because of an increased tendency to hold more sexually aggressive attitudes.
The study was conducted by the University of Huddersfield with legal advice and support from St Johns Buildings, the Manchester barristers' chambers, using mock trials. The findings may increase calls for jurors in the UK to be screened for pre-conceived bias before being selected, particularly in rape trials, the researchers said.
Ministry of Justice statistics from 2015 reveal that just 1,297 convictions of sexual offences were secured, representing less than four per cent of all cases recorded by police over the 12 months.
Dominic Willmott, a researcher at Huddersfield University and lecturer in forensic psychology at Leeds Trinity University, said that the research demonstrated "that for all the best efforts of the courts, juries are not necessarily offering a fair and impartial assessment of the evidence, particularly within rape cases.
"Past experiences play a huge role in shaping the person you are, and inevitably affects your view on society. As well as the importance of demographic features of the jurors, attitudes towards rape were found to be the strongest predictor of high numbers of not guilty verdicts."
Nigel Booth, a barrister at St John's Buildings, played the role of the judge, with other barristers acting for the prosecution and defence.