Judges' remarks to be checked in rape cases

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COMMENTS made by judges in rape trials are to be monitored by the Government amid fears that sexist attitudes are undermining victims' evidence and allowing rapists to be cleared.

The development follows a threefold increase in the number of reported rapes since 1985. Nearly 18 women report rape attacks every day but the conviction rate has fallen from 24 per cent to 9 per cent in the last three years.

Yesterday, following a report in The Independent highlighting the big increase in reported rape, the Government announced a widespread review of all sex-offence laws.

Home Office minister Alun Michael promised tougher punishments for offenders. "Public protection from sex offenders is of the utmost importance. Our review will ensure that the framework of sexual offences and penalties is coherent and effective," he said.

A Home Office report seen by The Independent reveals that government officials are analysing the way judges handle rape trials.

Women's support groups yesterday called on the Government to remove the discretionary right of judges to allow barristers to cross-examine rape victims on their sexual history.

Lisa Longstaff, of Women Against Rape, said: "Judges routinely allow rape victims to be trashed in court by defence barristers who trawl through the woman's sexual or medical history in order to discredit her."

Eighteen cases a day, page 3