New law to protect rape victims due next month

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The Independent Online

Defendants accused of rape and other sex offences will from next month be banned from cross-examining their alleged victims in court, the Home Office said yesterday.

Defendants accused of rape and other sex offences will from next month be banned from cross-examining their alleged victims in court, the Home Office said yesterday.

Child victims and witnesses in kidnapping, abduction and false imprisonment cases will also be protected from questioning by the defendant.

The changes to the law follow a spate of cases in which alleged rapists spent hours cross-examining their victims in minute detail. One of the most notorious cases involved Ralston Edwards, a defendant who spent six days in August 1996 cross-examining a woman, wearing the clothes in which he had attacked her.

The cases caused a public outcry and drew criticism about victims in rape cases being placed on trial. The changes are aimed at addressing abuse in court and at encouraging victims to give evidence.

Under the measures in the Youth Justice and Crime Evidence Act, defendants who choose to represent themselves rather than employing a barrister will lose the right to question their alleged victim, from 4 September. The defendant will have to appoint a lawyer to conduct the cross examination and, if they refuse, the court will do so.

Charles Clarke, a Home Office minister, said: "Banning unrepresented defendants from questioning victims in court in rape and sexual offence cases will, I hope, go some way to lessening the ordeal for those who have had the courage to bring the case."

In one of the most recent cases involving a defendant cross-examining his victim, a nurse aged 27 was left traumatised after bringing a case against her former fiancé, at the Old Bailey in April.

Camille Hourani forced his victim to go to court six times to prepare herself for questioning. After being sent away five times because he kept changing his mind, the nurse spent a day in the witness box, where he repeatedly reduced her to tears. Hourani was convicted of nine offences, some on majority verdicts, including rape and false imprisonment.

Children are already spared from questioning by a defendant accused of rape, sex offences or violence. But from September child victims and witnesses will not have to answer to anyone accused of kidnapping, false imprisonment or child abduction.

The changes only apply to courts in England and Wales, but similar proposals are expected to go before the Scottish Parliament in the autumn.