Government to review law on protection for rape complainants in light of Ched Evans case

Concerns raised that conduct of footballer's retrial 'weakened' safeguards for complainants

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The Independent Online

A government review is to be carried out of the law protecting alleged rape victims from having to reveal details of their sex lives in the wake of the Ched Evans case.

The move comes amid concerns that the conduct of the footballer's retrial had “weakened” safeguards for complainants and could deter women coming forward to report sexual offences in other cases.

The 27-year-old was cleared last month of raping a woman in a hotel room in 2011 after details of her sexual history were heard in court.

Evans was initially found guilty of the rape in 2012, but his conviction was quashed in April and a retrial ordered.

Defence lawyers have been barred from cross-examining alleged rape victims in court about their sexual behaviour or history since 1999, but the Court of Appeal said Evans' case was exceptional.

Lady Justice Hallett ruled it was a “rare case” in which it would be appropriate to allow “forensic examination” of the woman's sexual behaviour.

The unusual step saw the inclusion of evidence from two other men who claimed they had sex with the woman around the same time of the alleged offence and who described their encounters with her in terms that supported Mr Evans's account of what had happened.

Campaigners reacted angrily at the time to the move, which they warned set a dangerous legal precedent.

Under Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 there are tight restrictions on details of an alleged victims' sexual past which can be presented in court, other than in exceptional circumstances.

Calls for a report into the operation of the legislation were made during the committee stage of the Policing and Crime Bill in the House of Lords.

Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames, a Liberal Democrat peer and QC, said: “The point here and the point that we seek to have reviewed is whether as a result of the Ched Evans case there might be cases where the restrictive nature of Section 41 has or may be watered down and we need to look at how its operating.

“It is very important that rape gets reported and it is very important that the legislation in place is certainly as restrictive as we always thought Section 41 was and as the textbooks say it is.

“And the public concern is that this case seems to have weakened that protection.”

Home Office minister Baroness Williams of Trafford told peers questions about a complainant's previous sexual history were only allowed when “a strict set of criteria are met”.

But she added: “We are aware of the recent concern about the admissibility of a complainant's sexual history and wider perceptions about the law.

“We accept that the concerns should be looked at and we intend to deal with it.

“We have committed to looking at how the law is working in practice and we will do so as expeditiously as possible in order to understand whether any further action needs to be taken.”

PA

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