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Law over rape victims could change after Ched Evans case - Attorney General

Published 27/10/2016

Attorney General Jeremy Wright said rape victims must be encouraged to come forward to police
Attorney General Jeremy Wright said rape victims must be encouraged to come forward to police

The Attorney General has suggested the law could be changed to give greater protection to alleged rape victims following the Ched Evans case.

The Welsh footballer was found not guilty of raping a 19-year-old woman at a retrial following a five-year battle to clear his name.

In a rare move, the jury at Cardiff Crown Court heard evidence from two men who had sex with the complainant around the time of the rape allegation.

The decision sparked concern that women will be put off reporting sex assaults to the police, and former solicitor general Vera Baird warned the case put Britain back "probably about 30 years".

Jeremy Wright QC said the subject is of "concern" and suggested the law and guidance around the admission of a complainant's sexual history in criminal trials could be reformed.

Speaking in Attorney General Questions in the Commons, Mr Wright said: "There is concern here and we need to accept that that concern is sensible and deal with it.

"I think what we need to look at is a number of things. We need to understand more about the decision in this particular case, we need to understand whether a change in the law is appropriate, and if not whether it is sensible to look at the guidance that is given to judges about when this evidence is admissible and the guidance that judges give to juries about how that evidence should be used.

"I think we need to do all of those things before we are in a position to understand what, if any, changes are needed."

Mr Wright said the legal provision allowing an alleged victim's sexual history to be used in evidence is not "routinely" used.

But he added: "We must be confident that the message sent to those who may be currently worried about reporting these sorts of offences is not that they are not encouraged to do so, quite the reverse, they are, and we need to make sure that those messages are clear."

The Attorney General came under pressure from Labour to outline what the Government is doing to ensure the case does not deter sex assault victims from coming forward to police.

Shadow solicitor general Nick Thomas-Symonds said there are "grave recent concerns about the admissibility of a complainant's previous sexual history in rape trials".

And he warned that "single high-profile cases can give rise to wider perceptions about the law" and urged ministers to ensure victims are encouraged to come forward.

Mr Thomas-Symonds welcomed the Attorney General's commitment to looking at the guidance that is given to judges on the issue.

Women Against Rape welcomed the proposals to look again at the law allowing an alleged victim's sexual history to be admitted as evidence, and warned that they do not believe Evans's case was unique.

A spokeswoman said conviction rates for rape are already very low and women face the traumatic experience of having previous reports of abuse and their medical records presented in court as evidence.

She added: "If sexual history as used in the Evans case is used more in the future, the conviction rate for rape will go even further down, so that rapists will assume even more that they can get away with it."

Rachel Krys, co-director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, said: "It's good to see the Attorney General recognises that the concern raised about this case is valid and that he is looking at whether the law or guidelines for judges need to be changed.

"We know that defence teams are incentivised to use whatever they can to try to cast doubt on the character of claimants; we know, for example, that they try to get round rules by sometimes applying for medical records.

"Rape trials are especially susceptible to prejudices about what a real victim behaves like and what perpetrators looks like. We also know that the more that is revealed about a claimant's sexual history, the less likely there is to be a conviction.

"We are seeing a significant rise in the numbers of women coming forward, so we have a responsibility to ensure the courts are fair to women."

Polly Neate, chief executive of Women's Aid, said: "This is a welcome step. The prospect of having your sexual history dissected in court to undermine your case will undoubtedly put women off from reporting rape - a crime which is already hugely under-reported and has a very low conviction rate.

"The Ched Evans case has received enormous amounts of publicity and we know that the impact on the complainant's life has been devastating. Whatever the outcome of any case, no woman should be criticised or blamed for saying she has been raped. With other crimes, we do not blame anyone when the accused is found not guilty. With rape this is even more important.

"Furthermore, a woman's past sexual history bears no relevance on whether or not they have been a victim of rape. There is a need to challenge pervasive cultural assumptions that equate a woman's former sexual history with her likelihood of being raped.

"Women who have experienced sexual abuse need support and understanding, so we must act now to stop them from being too frightened to disclose."

Press Association

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