The high-profile barrister Baroness Kennedy of the Shaws fiercely attacked a feminist group yesterday for calling for a ban on any reference to a woman's sexual history during rape trials.
Lady Kennedy QC, who sits in the House of Lords, accused a senior spokeswoman for Women Against Rape of "silliness" for attempting to stop lawyers asking questions about a woman's sexual past.
She said such a move would lead to more miscarriages of justice such as the case of Roy Burnett, who was freed from prison by the Court of Appeal on Friday having served 15 years for a rape he did not commit. A re-examination of the evidence found his alleged victim brought a false rape complaint against a man in 1997.
Lady Kennedy made her comments during a debate with Lisa Longstaff, from Women Against Rape, on London Live Radio. Accusing Ms Longstaff of "silliness" she said: "What you're saying is that in the case [of Roy Burnett] which has just been exposed, the man should still be in prison." Ms Longstaff objected, saying she wanted women's rights to be protected, but not at the expense of men's.
Ms Longstaff said it was a "shame" Lady Kennedy had not joined groups that lobbied for the law to be changed in favour of ending cross-examination of rape victims about their sexual history.
She argued that the fact a woman had slept with ten men had no relevance to her allegation of rape. But Lady Kennedy, who said the Government had gone as far as possible in bringing a change to the law of rape, said there were occasions when a woman's sexual history was relevant. "When you've had 25 years' experience in the courts you might think more about what you're saying," she said. But Ms Longstaff said lawyers who contributed to the bias against women in the court room were part of the problem.
Ms Longstaff said it was wrong that the media had given the Burnett case so much attention when 10 per cent of rape complaints end in conviction.But Ms Kennedy said that the media had acted correctly in bringing such a miscarriage of justice to the public's attention.