A Third Of Rape Trials At One Court Used Complainants' Sexual History As Evidence, Study Finds

    Observers at Newcastle crown court found that the complainant's sexual history was brought up in 11 out of 30 rape trials over the course of 18 months.

    Ben Birchall / PA Wire/PA Images

    Footballer Ched Evans arrives at Cardiff crown court with partner Natasha Massey in October 2016, where he was on trial accused of raping a woman in May 2011.

    Lawyers used alleged victims' sexual history as evidence in more than a third of rape cases that were observed over the course of 18 months at a single court, according to a new report.

    Dame Vera Baird, the police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, commissioned the report, which was released on Monday and is based on the observations of 12 volunteers who sat in on the trials.

    The observers found that the sexual history of the complainant was questioned in 11 out of 30 rape trials at Newcastle crown court between January 2015 and June 2016.

    Barristers must apply to the judge under section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 before a trial begins if they intend to use someone's sexual history in court. In seven cases the observers saw this happen. Of the remaining four:

    — Two cases saw allegations made about a complainant's past relationships without any prior application or warning.

    — In another case, the defendant himself made allegations about the alleged victim's sexual past without either the judge nor the prosecution intervening, according to the report, understood to be the first to look at the issue.

    — In a further case, an alleged marital rape, the defence barrister claimed he intended to use the complainant's sexual history to show "she is an adultress".

    NPCC

    Steve Ashman, chief constable of Northumbria police, and Dame Vera Baird

    The observers noted that in four cases the complainant's sexual history was brought up even though it wasn't relevant to the case.

    Baird, a former solicitor general, raised concerns about the the retrial of footballer Ched Evans in 2016, in which the jury heard evidence from two men who had sex with the complainant at the time of her complaint. Baird said the case had set back 30 years of progress in this area.

    Evans was originally convicted of rape in 2011 and served a prison sentence but won the right to appeal the case and was found not guilty last year.

    The report, titled Seeing Is Believing, said changes were already being made by the Crown Prosecution Service and the judiciary, which cooperated with the study.

    Baird said: "These individuals have watched 30 rape trials over 18 months. What they have seen has happened. They had no other purpose but to watch. They have no axe to grind, no partiality, and so far as we know none of them had met any of the other observers before they started their work – a bit like a jury.

    "We hope that what the observers saw can help our local criminal justice agencies ensure that more trials become like the best ones that were seen. We have already passed on some simple information which has made a difference.

    "Although there is criticism in this report, there was much in what the observers saw that they applauded. Throughout the report examples of good practice appear and are thoroughly commended."

    A private member's bill introduced in the House of Commons earlier this month pledges to stop the cross-examination of rape complainants in court. The bill's sponsor, Plaid Cymru's Liz Saville-Roberts, said she hoped such measures would encourage more victims to come forward and report their abuse.

    Jeremy Wright, the attorney general, told the Commons last year in the wake of the Evans retrial that the rules that govern the questioning of complainants in rape cases should be examined, as should the guidance for judges.

    Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

    Contact Patrick Smith at patrick.smith@buzzfeed.com.

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