Concerns raised over use of medical history in rape trials

Privacy fears have been raised over evidence in rape trials
Privacy fears have been raised over evidence in rape trials
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Concerns have been raised about defence solicitors routinely accessing the sexual and medical history of complainers in rape trials.

Rape Crisis Scotland said there had been 57 applications to lead sexual history or character evidence in rape and abuse trials during the first three months of the year, of which 43 were granted in full.

The group said the low level of opposition to the applications and their high success rate was “worrying”.

It called for clear rules to be put in place governing access to medical or other sensitive records. The comments came in a submission to the Scottish Parliament’s justice committee as part of its inquiry into the work of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.

Rape Crisis Scotland said the majority of rapes reported to police failed to make court.

Of 1,901 rapes or reported rapes in 2014-15, 270 cases led to prosecutions and 125 convictions.

The charity said: “There are long-standing concerns about the use of sexual history and character evidence in sexual offence trials.

“In a recent judicial review, Lord Glennie found that access to a complainer’s sensitive records represented a significant breach of privacy and that complainers should have a right to be told when the person she has accused of abuse makes application for her records and a right to be heard on that application.

“In our experience, these records are frequently being sought to look for mental health issues. Many complainers experience attempts to access private records, a significant violation of their privacy which adds to the stress and upset of interaction with the criminal justice system.”

The charity said complainers had the right to be told when an application was made for their records and informed they had a right to oppose and seek legal advice.

There was controversy earlier this month when the sexual history of the complainer was heard in court during the re-trial of footballer Ched Evans.

Mr Evans was found not guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman in a hotel room following the re-trial at Cardiff Crown Court after having his earlier conviction quashed.

A group of MPs has now written to England’s attorney general warning the use of the woman’s sexual history in the case sets a “dangerous precedent” which could prevent rape victims coming forward.

MSPs on Holyrood’s justice committee will hear evidence on Tuesday from a range of witnesses on the work of the prosecution service.

The Scotsman today reported concerns over prosecutors being forced to take cases to trial despite clear shortcomings in the evidence.

Lawyers representing Scotland’s bar associations said there was a “culture of fear” in the prosecution service with a “leeching away” of the personal discretion traditionally used by fiscal deputes on whether to take cases forward.

In response to the concerns, the Crown Office said the Lord Advocate had confidence in the “professional skill and dedication” of prosecution staff.