The Law Commission has announced a project to examine how evidence is used in rape proceedings in order to dispel rape myths.
The Law Commission is the statutory independent organisation established by the Law Commissions Act of 1965 to evaluate the law and provide recommendations for improvement. The Commission wants to ensure that the law is fair, modern, easy to understand, and cost-effective.
The programme, which is part of the government’s rape review, aims to: – improve knowledge of consent and sexual damage; – improve victim treatment; – guarantee defendants get a fair trial.
The Commission will focus on and analyse four topics in particular:
Sexual history – The Commission will consider whether the laws governing the restriction of inquiries about a complainant’s sexual history need to be revised.
Medical records – The rules governing the use of the complainant’s medical and counselling records during a trial will be reviewed.
Rape Myths – The so-called rape myths involving trustworthiness, behaviour, and experience of complainants and defendants are discussed, as well as how law and counselling could contradict jurors’ assumptions about sexual damage.
Special measures – the availability of special measures for protecting complainants throughout the trial will be evaluated. Alternative arrangements for giving evidence are known as special measures.
The Rape Review is concerned, in part, about the low conviction rates for rape and other serious sexual offences. If victims are afraid of going to court, they may be less likely to report crimes or assist a prosecution. “Our project will consider how to improve the trial process to address ‘rape myths’, admit ony relevant evidence and better protect complainants whilst ensuring a fair trial for defendants.” said the Law Commissioner for Criminal Law.
The government tasked the Law Commission with completing this project due to a decrease in conviction rates despite the fact that the prevalence of crime has remained constant. Other programmes of the Law Commission aim to strengthen protections for women against violence and abuse. The projects include proposals to broaden the definition of incitement to hatred to include incitement to hatred based on sex or gender; cyber flashing and rape threats; and an ongoing project on intimate image abuse and the taking of personal photographs without consent.
The reasons why victims delay reporting, different behaviours after an assault, and the significance of a lack of resistance or harm are all examples of rape myths.
Use of Evidence
Only in exceptional circumstances can a complainant’s sexual history be revealed. The provision will be reviewed by the Commission to ensure that only relevant evidence is admitted at trial. It will also evaluate whether the criteria for releasing a complainant’s medical and counselling data are sufficiently severe. Also to be considered is the possibility that a jury will place too much emphasis on this information and make a conclusion based on a misunderstanding.
Special measures are being taken
Special measures are modifications that might be made during a trial to assist a witness in giving the best possible testimony. Witness protections in sexual assault trials may make it easier for witnesses to testify. The Commission will consider whether the requirements could be changed to ensure that the quality of the evidence is not harmed by the experience of giving it.
A brief background paper on the need for reform and the concerns will be published by the Commission. In the summer of 2022, a consultation paper with the provisional recommendations will be released. In 2023, after the consultation is completed, a final set of recommendations will be published.
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