Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons

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  • Current News / PRESS RELEASE: NEW CRIMINAL BAR ASSOCIATION STUDY CONFIRMS OUR CONCERNS ABOUT COMPLAINANT’S PREVIOUS SEXUAL HISTORY BEING DRAGGED THROUGH COURT IN RAPE TRIALS

PRESS RELEASE: NEW CRIMINAL BAR ASSOCIATION STUDY CONFIRMS OUR CONCERNS ABOUT COMPLAINANT’S PREVIOUS SEXUAL HISTORY BEING DRAGGED THROUGH COURT IN RAPE TRIALS

“This new survey backs up our concerns and those of organisations like Rape Crisis and Limeculture who sit in court supporting rape victims through the ordeal of trial.  The Criminal Bar Association survey shows in a quarter of all rape cases the defence makes an application to the judge to be able to cross-examine the complainant on her previous sexual history and in the overwhelming majority of those cases the application is granted so that the complainant faces interrogation about her sex life in open court.  Reporting restrictions don’t save the complainant from the humiliation of having to answer questions about her previous sex life and now social media means that those reporting restrictions cannot effectively be enforced against those who choose to share the information online.  

The survey of 140 criminal barristers, directly involved in both prosecuting and defending in rape trials, proves that the Government are wrong to rely on the assurance from the Crown Prosecution Service that everything is fine.  This is another serious dent in the deeply flawed CPS research published earlier this year by the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General.

“It’s clear that a change in the law is needed. The Courts and Tribunals Bill which is now being considered by parliament is the opportunity to do that and address a problem which undermines the prosecution and traumatises the complainant. The Government have launched a Victims Strategy consultation.  But it has a big gap in it unless they tackle the problem of victims in sex cases being interrogated about their previous sexual history”.

Dame Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria said:

“We cannot allow rape trials to be inquisitions into the complainant’s sex life. The fear of a complainant being confronted with evidence relating to sex with other men in open court is, and has always been, a huge deterrent to reporting rape.

“The Criminal Bar Association’s study is further evidence that the Government’s review carried out by the CPS does not reflect the situation in court rooms across the country.

“The Government must use the Victims Strategy and Courts and Tribunals Bill to protect complainants and ensure they are treated fairly in the court room”. 

ENDS

For more information contact: Rachel Smethers rachel.smethers@parliament.uk  0207 219 2057

Notes to editors:

  1. The Criminal Bar Association report found of the 565 complainants, 144 (25%) involved applications being filed under section 41.
  2. The report shows that of those 144 section 41 applications 105 (73%) resulted in questions by the defence being allowed, either by being agreed between counsel, or being granted by the court in full or in part.
  3. Harriet Harman and Vera Baird wrote to the Attorney General and Secretary of State for Justice on 8th January 2018 to challenge the Crown Prosecution Service’s research on section 41.
  4. On 29th January 2018 Harriet Harman and Vera Baird launched a cross-party coalition to challenge the Government to take action on the use of rape complainants’ previous sexual history in court.
  5. On 25th September 2018 Harriet wrote to Justice Minister Edward Argar to urge the Government to include complainants’ previous sexual history being dragged through the court in rape trials in their forthcoming Victims Strategy consultation. 
  6. Harriet Harman raised concerns about the operation of section 41 in the Second Reading of the Courts and Tribunals Bill in the Chamber on 27th November 2018.

 

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