MP to introduce Private Members Bill to protect rape victims

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Liz Saville Roberts to introduce Bill to limit cross-examination of rape victims

Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, Liz Saville Roberts will introduce a new Private Member’s Bill on Wednesday to prevent the cross-examination of rape victims about either their sexual history, previous behaviour or appearance.

The Bill follows analysis by victims charity, Voice4Victims, who have worked closely with Ms Saville Roberts on the Bill, of numerous case studies which illustrate major loopholes in current law and procedure including cases where rape or attempted rape victims have been cross-examined about their number of previous sexual partners, affairs they may have been involved in, any previous history of alcohol abuse or mental health and the clothes they were wearing at the time of the offence.

Latest statistics show that in 2015/16, there were 35,798 complaints of rape to the Police but just 2,689 resulted in convictions (7.5%).

Plaid Cymru’s Home Affairs spokesperson, Liz Saville Roberts, will introduce the Bill, which has cross-party support.

The Bill will replicate the so-called ‘Rape Shield Law’ which exists in the USA, Canada and Australia. It will prevent a victim from being put on trial for their clothing, attitude, behaviour or sexual history; and help to reduce the impact of the so-called “twin-myths” – the assumption that a woman who has had sex with one man is more likely to consent with another and that the evidence of the promiscuous woman is less credible.

An 18 month study undertaken by Dame Vera Baird QC in 2015 concluded that in over a third of all rape cases heard at Newcastle Crown Court, there were questions about prior sexual conduct of the complainant. In a further 5 cases, court rules about cross-examination were disregarded, allowing applications for sexual history to be introduced as evidence on the morning of the trial or after trial commencement, preventing the prosecution from assessing and, where appropriate, resisting such applications.

This private members Bill will severely restrict the cross-examination that occurred in the cases above and numerous other cases which greatly affect victims’ confidence in coming forward to report rape.

The Bill also prohibits in certain circumstances the disclosure by the Police of a victim’s identity to a stranger attacker. It also extends the range of serious offences which may be referred to the Court of Appeal on the grounds of undue leniency. It amends the requirements for ground rules hearing to make it clear that cross-examination on the grounds of sexual history is unacceptable. It also makes provisions for the guidance on safeguarding in schools following cases referred to Voice4Victims which showed that underage female victims were further traumatised by being placed in the same class as their alleged abuser.

Commenting ahead of introducing her Bill, Plaid Cymru’s Home Affairs spokesperson, Liz Saville Roberts, said:

“It is neither right nor just that a victim of rape can be questioned in Court on matters not relevant to the case in hand. Yet in the recent past victims have been humiliated by lawyers asking questions about their sexual partners, their clothing and appearance.

“Such practices will undoubtedly make victims reluctant to come forward and more likely to drop complaints and there is already anecdotal evidence that high profile cases involving such evidence being used has led to a drop in the number of women who are coming forward.

“The core purpose of this Bill is to prevent such intrusive and damaging questioning. It will replicate the so-called Rape Shield Law which exists in Australia, Canada and most of the United States and prevent a complainant’s sexual history from being used in a trial as an indicator of the victim’s character.

“Rape Shield Laws have been introduced in other countries to protect victims from the emotional trauma of being questioned about their sexual history on the witness stand, and it is time for victims here to be afforded the same protections.”

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