Rape vic­tims to be spared or­deal of be­ing cross-ex­am­ined live in court

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Han­nah Sum­mers

Mea­sures to spare al­leged rape vic­tims from fac­ing live cross-ex­am­i­na­tion in court will be rolled out as part of changes in­tro­duced by the jus­tice sec­re­tary.

Liz Truss has an­nounced that from Septem­ber vic­tims in Eng­land and Wales will be able to pro­vide ev­i­dence in pre­re­corded cross-ex­am­i­na­tions to be played to the jury once a trial be­gins.

The rule is be­ing in­tro­duced to all adult sex­ual of­fence tri­als fol­low­ing the suc­cess of pi­lot schemes us­ing pre-recorded ev­i­dence in cases of child sex­ual abuse.

It was found that de­fen­dants, when con­fronted with the strength of the ev­i­dence against them be­fore the trial, were more likely to en­ter an early guilty plea, re­duc­ing the trauma for vic­tims, speed­ing up the process and sav­ing money.

The move is part of a pack­age of changes that in­clude in­tro­duc­ing the of­fence of “sex­ual com­mu­ni­ca­tion with a child” in order to crack down on groom­ing via so­cial me­dia. Those con­victed face a jail term of up to two years and an au­to­matic list­ing on the sex of­fender regis­ter.

Truss said the changes to rape tri­als would pre­vent vic­tims fac­ing the trauma of con­fronting their at­tack­ers with­out re­duc­ing the right to a fair trial. She told the Sun­day Times: “There is more we can do to help al­leged vic­tims in these cases give the best pos­si­ble ev­i­dence they can give in an en­vi­ron­ment that is much more suit­able than open court.”

Rape pros­e­cu­tions are at record lev­els and the court sys­tem is strug­gling to cope with the num­ber of cases. Do­mes­tic abuse, rape, sex­ual of­fences and child sex abuse ac­count for 19% of the Crown Pros­e­cu­tion Ser­vice’s to­tal caseload – more than dou­ble the fig­ure six years ago.

The vol­ume of rape re­fer­rals to the CPS from the po­lice rose to 6,855 in 2015-16 – up 11% on the pre­vi­ous year. Of those re­ferred, 3,910 re­sulted in charges and 1,300 in con­vic­tions. How­ever, cam­paign­ers claim just 6% of all re­ported cases end with the ac­cused be­ing con­victed.

The new reg­u­la­tions will aim to im­prove the con­vic­tion rate, with vic­tims and vul­ner­a­ble wit­nesses able to give ev­i­dence “in a room in court where it’s much less in­tim­i­dat­ing, where there are ground rules set by the judge”, Truss said.

She said the changes would mean judges can limit the length of cross-ex­am­i­na­tion to avoid vic­tims hav­ing to tes­tify for days on end and would also al­low them to cut out any in­ap­pro­pri­ate cross-ex­am­i­na­tion of a vic­tim’s sex­ual his­tory be­fore it could be aired in front of a jury.

The vic­tims’ com­mis­sioner, Lady Newlove, wel­comed the news. “Pre-recorded cross-ex­am­i­na­tion al­lows vul­ner­a­ble vic­tims and wit­nesses to give ev­i­dence in a safe en­vi­ron­ment and I hope these long-awaited mea­sures will pro­vide the pro­tec­tion and re­as­sur­ance they need to seek jus­tice.”

How­ever, some ques­tioned whether the new mea­sures would place the de­fen­dant in rape tri­als at an un­fair dis­ad­van­tage.

James Conte, who founded the web­site Ac­cused.me.uk, a sup­port group for vic­tims of false ac­cu­sa­tions, said: “While we would wel­come mea­sures that would in­crease the rape con­vic­tions of peo­ple who re­ally have com­mit­ted rape, if you are wholly in­no­cent of some­one try­ing to frame you, you will not wel­come these changes be­cause they will in­crease your chances of be­ing wrong­fully con­victed.”

But Lisa Ava­los, a pro­fes­sor of law at the Univer­sity of Ar­kan­sas who has car­ried out com­par­a­tive work on rape pros­e­cu­tions be­tween Bri­tain and the US, pointed out that false claims make up just 2-3% of all rape al­le­ga­tions, ac­cord­ing to a study com­mis­sioned by the Home Of­fice.

The jus­tice sec­re­tary, Liz Truss, said the change would come in from Septem­ber

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