Review of law on rape case evidence announced
25th Nov 2016
The government has announced a review of the use of rape complainants’ sexual history during court cases after concerns have been raised that the acquittal of footballer Ched Evans could deter women from reporting attacks.
Outrage was sparked after a key part of Evans’ defence argument involved describing the complainant’s previous sexual history, which is permitted, under strict conditions, by section 41 of the Youth and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.
News of the review came in a debate on crime and policing in the House of Lords on Wednesday, when the Liberal Democrat peer Jonathan Marks argued that the case “raised fears that complainants will be deterred from reporting rape because they might be cross-examined about their sexual history”.
Susan Williams, a junior Home Office minister who also works with the Ministry of Justice, argued that the legislative bar put in place by section 41 was “high and decided by judges on a case-by-case basis”, meaning there should be no risk of it happening more often.
However, she added that concerns had been noted, and that section 41“should be looked at”.
“We intend to deal with it,” Williams continued. “We have committed to looking at how the law is working in practice and will do so as expeditiously as possible, to understand whether any further action needs to be taken.” Williams confirmed that the government was undertaking a review of the law.
In a letter to the attorney general, over 40 female Labour MPs said a move towards revisiting the sexual history of complainants in court would “make the prosecution of rape cases in the future harder and reporting of these crimes less likely” as the Evans case “set a dangerous precedent that how a victim of rape, usually a woman, has behaved in the past can be taken as evidence of the way she behaved at the time of the alleged rape”.
Marks, the Lib Dems’ legal spokesman, said the case had “led to the perception that a victim’s sexual history can be combed through and used against them in court”.
“We all have a responsibility to ensure that victims of rape are encouraged to come forward to enable justice to be done,” he said. “That is why we sought a review of how section 41 is working, to ensure that the section is as restrictive as we have long thought it is.”