DCSIMG

Law change bid to cut use of rape victims’ sexual history

A legal bid to restrict the use of rape victims sexual history in court trials will be launched at Holyrood. Picture: Neil Hanna

A legal bid to restrict the use of rape victims sexual history in court trials will be launched at Holyrood. Picture: Neil Hanna

  • by SCOTT MACNAB
 

A LEGAL bid to restrict the use of rape victims’ sexual history in court trials will be launched at Holyrood.

A change in the law is being proposed which will see victims given the right to legal advice when the defence or prosecution lawyers attempt to introduce details of their personal history in cases.

An attempt will be made to change the Victims and ­Witnesses Bill currently going through parliament to ensure that complainers in these cases are fully aware of their rights.

The proposal is being lodged by Conservative justice spokeswoman Margaret Mitchell and has the backing of women’s rights groups. “This has been an issue for years and years and years, and still no solution has been reached,” Ms Mitchell said.

“The Scottish Government says it is looking at it and will focus on the issue. But the picture painted by Kenny ­MacAskill is quite different to the one from victims and witnesses.

“With the legislation the way it is, it’s a charter for defence teams to access records and use them even if they have no ­relevance to the case whatsoever. That’s why victims and ­witnesses need independent legal advice so they can stand up to this.”

Legislation was passed in 2002 to crack down on the use of this type of evidence. But an evaluation five years later showed it led to an increase, with 72 per cent of trials featuring an application to introduce sexual history or character ­evidence – and only 7 per cent of these applications being refused.

Eileen Maitland of Rape Crisis Scotland said the use of sexual history and medical records is often “highly intrusive, sought speculatively, and of little ­relevance” to cases.

She added: “The prospect of having their personal lives subjected to such public scrutiny is an ordeal for rape complainers and a real deterrent for survivors who are considering reporting.

“As such, it is a barrier to ­justice over and above many others faced by survivors of this devastating crime, and it is time the Scottish justice system took meaningful steps to address the issue and overcome these.”

Lily Greenan of Scottish Women’s Aid said: “We’ve got a long way to go to get to grips with this, and independent legal advice for the complainer where an attempt is made to introduce sexual history evidence would be one way to ensure the rights of victims are considered.”

She said a huge amount of work has been done to try to improve the response to rape victims in court in recent years.

But she added: “We’re not there yet and the conviction rate for rape is still among the lowest in Europe. There’s an issue about how these cases are being dealt with and we need to consider how to ensure victims are fairly represented in the legal system.”

The Scottish Government does not back such a key change for “one particular group”.

“The justice secretary has indicated that he is willing to further discuss the underlying concerns raised with Rape Crisis Scotland, Crown Office and others, and to explore what more can be done to protect alleged victims from unnecessary distress,” a spokeswoman added.

 
 
 

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