ENGLISH actress Helen Mirren has claimed that female jealousy makes female jurors less likely to sympathise with a rape victim, reported Times Online.
That comment in an interview with the Sunday Times Magazine has stirred a hornets' nest in Britain.
Mirren, who won a best actress Oscar last year for her role in The Queen, was discussing examples of competitiveness among women.
She said: 'In a rape case, the courts - in defence of a man - would select as many women as they could for the jury, because women go against women.
'Whether in a deep-seated animalistic way, going back billions of years, or from a sense of tribal jealousy or just antagonism, I don't know, but other women on a rape case would say she was asking for it.
'The only reason I can think of is that they're sexually jealous.'
Mirren has previously said she was date-raped twice herself when she was young but did not report the attacks because 'you couldn't do that in those days'.
Still, her controversial comments have sparked mixed reactions.
It angered those like Solicitor General Vera Baird, who have been campaigning hard to change attitudes to rape and increase the tiny proportion of rape claims that result in a conviction.
She told Daily Mail that Mirren, 63, had made false assumptions about how juries are selected and her words could prevent rape victims from reporting their ordeals.
She said juries are selected at random and neither defence nor prosecution has the power to handpick a jury based on their suitability for the trial.
Mrs Baird said: 'It's just absurd... It shows an absolute lack of knowledge about the way the criminal justice system works.
'This is a vast generalisation based on nothing, but unfortunately it is likely to have a deterrent effect.'
Ms Jill Saward, who campaigns for changes in the way rape victims are treated by the courts, told the Telegraph that Mirren's comments could have an 'incredibly destructive' effect on efforts to get victims to come forward.
She said: 'She might have a point about women - that they sometimes judge other women more harshly than men - but I don't know what she is trying to prove by talking about how cases are treated in the courts.'
However, others believe that Mirren may have touched on an uncomfortable truth.
Barrister Kirsty Brimelow, who has defended many men accused of rape, said female-dominated juries were often harsher on a woman, particularly if she had been drunk or the man was an acquaintance or former boyfriend.
She told The Mirror: 'I would reassure a defendant who was worried that there was a preponderance of women on the jury.
'They may take against the woman instead of him.'
Campaigners have been trying to raise the proportion of rape allegations that end in conviction, which now stands at just 6.1 per cent, compared with about 25 per cent for assaults.
Polls suggest between a quarter and a third of Britons believe a rape victim is largely responsible for an attack if she is drunk or wearing revealing clothes.
In September, Mirren told GQ magazine that if a woman voluntarily ended up in a man's bedroom, took her clothes off and engaged in sexual activity, she still had the right to say 'no' at the last second.
If the man ignored her, she said, that was rape.
But she added: 'I don't think she can have that man into court under those circumstances.'
This article was first published in The New Paper on Nov 18, 2008.