Conaghan audio

feminists@law, Vol 5, No 1 (2015)

Challenging and Redressing Police Failures in the Context of Rape Investigations: The Civil Liability Route

Joanne Conaghan

This is an audio recording of a paper delivered as part of the 'Sexual Offences and Offending' stream at the SLSA Annual Confeerence, University of Warwick, on 1 April 2015.

The question of police attitudes to and conduct of rape complaints has been in the British public eye now for some time. A damning succession of studies have catalogued police failings, from initial reporting through to final disposition of a case, generating a mountain of data evidencing deep structural, institutional, and cultural problems going to the heart of the effectiveness of the criminal justice system. Located within a broader policy context of growing concern over the low rate of convictions for rape cases and set against a backdrop of substantial reform of rape law, not just in England and Wales but around the globe, the police handling of rape investigations has attracted repeated criticism and public scrutiny.

One way of addressing these concerns is through strategic civil litigation. Looking beyond the UK, it is clear that both tort and human rights arguments have been successfully invoked to redress systemic and operational problems pertaining to the police conduct of rape investigations. Within the UK, such developments have been constrained by the doctrinal framework, particularly by the strong judicial deference given to policy considerations against civil liability first articulated in Hill v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (1989). However, recent developments in human rights law and, in particular, the successful suit against the Metropolitan police for investigative failures in the context of the ‘Black cab rapist’ case (DSD & NBV v Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis (2014)) suggest that this avenue of redress may now be opening up.

How should this development be viewed in the context of the wider problem rape presents to criminal justice? Can civil liability be deployed effectively to bring about transformative cultural and institutional change in the context of investigating and prosecuting rape? Might it deliver results where all else appears to have failed? The purpose of this paper is to begin to explore these questions.

Joanne Conaghan is a Professor of Law and Head of the Law School at the University of Bristol, UK. Email joanne.conaghan@bristol.ac.uk.

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