Vera Baird DBE KC

Writer, Lecturer, Parliamentary Consultant and Co-Director of Astraea: Gender Justice

DNA and Rape an article for Progress Online

Vera\’s article written for progess online about the proposed destruction of DNA by the coalition. Also available on the Progress Online website.


Here we are again

The Coalition’s proposals to destroy DNA currently held on the national database will be disastrous for the future of rape convictions. They must reverse the policy as they did on their equally misconceived plans to give anonymity to defendants and to halve sentences for guilty pleas, in rape.
They show overall a pitiful understanding of justice for women. That is not surprising from a government of millionaire men who have deliberately unpicked those parts of the Equality Act 2010 which required all public authorities to screen proposals against their gender impact and therefore have nothing with which to correct their dominant male culture-based perceptions. There will soon be a case for a national women’s demonstration to make clear that contrary to their views, women will not take the brunt of the cuts and go quietly back, impoverished and dependant, into domestic life.
They intend to destroy valuable evidence, in DNA samples, that will and already does help to advance justice for rape victims.
At most, 7.5% of rape complaints made to police result in a conviction, though if a case gets as far as court, convictions are 55%.  Most complaints drop out during the police investigation or when the case is in CPS hands, prior to charge. It happens for a variety of reasons. Many cases fail then through loss of confidence by the complainant who knows she has to give evidence on intimate facts; will be put on trial herself and may not be sure that police and CPS are on her side. These factors do not necessarily relate to the quality of the case against the defendant. Potentially successful rape prosecutions, in which the evidence is good, are lost through these confidence issues, at an early stage.
It is now well-documented that rape is often a serial offence. It is committed to exert power over women. Perpetrators with this mindset offend until they are convicted. Some significant recent prosecutions have reinforced this –notably that of the taxi driver Worboys and of Craig Reid who terrorized many women over many years.
To destroy  DNA which has been lawfully taken from a suspect in a rape case flies in the face of the sense made  by these facts when understood together. Many guilty rapist go free because both women and men complainants are still  insufficiently supported by the justice system and do not have the confidence to go as far as court.
Parliamentary Questions ought to be asked about how many rapists have been convicted through DNA matches with those from earlier cases in which the prosecution failed. How many serial rapists have eventually been run to ground in this way?
When DNA from an earlier case is matched to a current case, the earlier victim can frequently be persuaded to give evidence. She will realize that her testimony is no longer just important for justice for herself, but also for the protection of other women, including the current victim and potential future ones. Women who have lost self esteem through their violation feel that justice for themselves is not very important, not worth the additional humiliation they expect in court. However they will testify  when they see the need to help another victim and to protect others from the trauma they have sustained themselves.

Additionally, it is obvious that two allegations of rape by two different women, heard together,  present a significantly stronger case before a jury than a single allegation made by one victim. The conviction rate in multiple cases is higher and many defendants faced with multiple accusers will accept the inevitable and plead guilty.
Hence DNA matches can help to build strong cases in a field of investigation and prosecution which has historically produced poor results.  Additionally, this process plays a significant role both in the ongoing encouragement of women to take their rape case to court and the continuing informing of the public as jurors that rapists are dangerous men.
In this context, retention of DNA is a relatively minor interference in personal privacy. DNA testing is so accurate that it is highly unlikely that it will produce false allegations. The legal process described above will only apply if the match is a true one and it is that situation which brings the balance down  in favour of preserving potential future evidence, even though innocent DNA will also bekept.  This is simple and clear. Surely even a Coalition which devalues the lives of women in most of their policy proposals can see that.