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Women being subjected to unfair questioning in sexual assault trials, says MP

Lawyers defending a sex attacker tried to blame his accuser by quizzing her over why she wore a red dress the night she was assaulted, an MP has said.

Liz Savile Roberts warned that women are being unfairly subjected to "humiliating" cross-examination over their sexual history and choice of clothing.

She is proposing a Bill which would restrict the ability of barristers to introduce evidence about an accuser's sexual history as part of the defence case in sexual assault trials.

The move follows calls to reform the law after footballer Ched Evans was acquitted of raping a 19-year-old woman in a retrial after a judge allowed evidence to be heard from two men who had sex with her around the time of the alleged offence.

Ms Savile Roberts, Plaid Cymru MP for Dwyfor Meirionnydd, said two women, named as Ivy and Emma but whose real identities cannot be revealed for legal reasons, faced unfair questioning in the witness box.

She told the Commons: "Ivy, a rape victim, was told at a ground rules hearing that her sexual history would not be used. But at court she faced questions and allegations that she was promiscuous - there was no judicial intervention.

"Emma was followed by a stranger who attacked and tried to rape her. Her screams were met with the threat of, 'stop or be killed'.

"Fortunately two off-duty police officers heard her screams.

"The trial fixated on why Emma chose to wear a red dress on that summer's evening."

Several MPs gasped in disbelief as they heard the experiences of the women.

In 2015/16 there were 33,798 complaints of rape to the police, but just 2,689 (7.5%) resulted in convictions, the Commons heard. The vast majority of alleged victims were women.

Originally intended as a "rape shield" to prevent women from humiliating cross-examination, section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 regulates when a complainant's sexual history can be used as evidence by the defence.

Campaigners believe judges are allowing such evidence to be used too often, and the problem is likely to have been fuelled by the publicity surrounding the Evans case.

Ms Savile Roberts said: "Currently victims of sexual abuse face the possibility of being humiliated and their credibility undermined by defence lawyers asking questions about their sexual partners, clothing and appearance."

The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill, which she is proposing, would restrict the use of a complainant's sexual history unless it is against the interests of justice not to admit it.

It would ensure a person's "irrelevant sexual history" is not wrongfully used as an indicator of their truthfulness, the MP said.

Ms Savile Roberts said: "This rape shield is a necessary legal guard against the twin myths, peddled by some defence teams, firstly that a woman who has sex with one man is more likely to consent to have sex with another, and that the evidence of a promiscuous woman is less credible."

Referring to the footballer's case, she said: "A recent high-profile case in Wales has no doubt had an impact on victims' confidence to come forward."

Ms Savile Roberts said measures in the Bill will help restore the faith of victims in the criminal justice system.

It will receive its second reading on March 24, although it is unlikely to become law without the support of the Government.

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