UK: Law changes fail to stop use of "rhetorical devices" to get rapists off the hook
London -- 21 June 2006
Rape law change has failed to boost convictions By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent
A government initiative to increase the number of rape convictions has proved to be ineffective, the Home Office said yesterday.
Rules introduced six years ago aimed at stopping defence barristers from depicting rape victims as promiscuous have been "evaded, circumvented and resisted", research found.
The law - Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 - was supposed to restrict such questioning to only a limited number of cases and only when justified.
But the report said: "Section 41 has had no discernible effect on attrition [failure of prosecutions]. Findings... raise the possibility that both prosecution and defence share stereotypical assumptions about 'appropriate' female behaviour and that these continue to play a part when issues of credibility are addressed in rape cases."
Defence lawyers still used evidence and "rhetorical devices" to impugn the character of rape victims, the report showed, and were often unchallenged in court.
There were applications to have sexual history details banned in a third of 400 cases studied. They were successful in two out of three cases. But sexual history evidence was introduced in more than three quarters of trials, often outside the scope of Section 41.