Frank Dawtry Annual Lecture marks start of 30 year anniversary for the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies
This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies at the School of Law. The Centre was established in 1987 to pursue research into criminal justice systems and criminological issues and has since grown to become one of the leading criminological centres of its kind with an established international profile. On 30 January, the annual Frank Dawtry Memorial Lecture marked the first in a series of inspiring events organised to commemorate the Centre’s anniversary.
This year the lecture entitled “Court Watching, Will We See Justice?” was given by Dame Vera Baird DBE QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria and former Member of Parliament and Minister in the Labour government. Dame Baird was appointed as the UK Governments Solicitor General for England and Wales from 2007 to 2010 and was particularly involved in criminal justice policy and legislation, especially on gender and equality policies.
Dame Vera Baird’s lecture reported on an innovative project in which volunteer panellists watched 30 rape trials at Newcastle Crown Court. Having received training on basic trial procedure from the Crown Prosecution Service, the panellists, in pairs, watched the trials in full and completed questionnaires recording information on what they had observed. While many of the trials were described as being very well run, problematically, the research found that sexual history evidence was sometimes admitted at last the moment without an application being submitted ahead of trial as required under legislation and on two occasions without any application at all. There were also instances where trial judges neglected to give directions challenging common misconceptions about rape and ‘typical’ victim behaviour in line with guidance introduced in 2010. As part of the Police and Crime Commissioner's Violence against Women and Girls Strategy, the panel will shortly publish their observations with a view to promoting best practice in prosecution of rape and sexual assault.