Sexual history used legitimately in rape trials, review finds

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Dec 19, 2017
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Jeremy Wright, QC, the attorney-general, said the law struck the right balance between protecting complainants and ensuring defendants had a fair trial

Times photographer Jack Hill

Rape complainants are legitimately questioned on their sexual history in exceptional circumstances despite concerns that the laws are being abused, a new survey shows.

Researchers commissioned by the justice secretary and the attorney-general looked at how the law was working after concerns that questioning in court would deter complainants from coming forward. However, Jeremy Wright, QC, the attorney-general, said that the survey of more than 300 cases showed that the law “strikes the right balance” and there are no grounds to ban rape complainants’ sexual history being revealed in court.

In the “overwhelming majority” of cases, 92 per cent, no sexual history was introduced. “These findings strongly indicate that the law is working as it should, and strikes a careful balance between the need to protect complainants and ensuring that defendants receive a fair trial, consistent with the common law and Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights,” Wright said in a ministerial statement.

However, he and David Lidington recommended an update of mandatory training for prosecutors and asked the criminal procedure rule committee to review the relevant courtroom rules.

The findings, Whitehall officials said, indicated that the bar for disclosure of evidence was high and that the law was striking a careful balance between the need to protect complainants and ensuring defendants received a fair trial.

Baroness Chakrabarti, the shadow attorney-general, said: “We ought to be able to guarantee fair trials whilst treating victims with dignity and respect. The attorney-general’s announcement is a step in the right direction but in addition to better training and data collection, I urge him to consider greater procedural protections to ensure that a complainant’s sexual history is only introduced when truly relevant and that the power is not abused.”

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Go to the profile of David Barlow
David Barlow 6 months ago

“Complainants,” even accusers,  not “victims”.  Imperative that justice also applies to the defendants. Such incorrect use of nomenclature, deliberate or otherwise, simply muddies the waters, especially by those excitables on the “left” of the argument.