The Labour MP Harriet Harman has introduced a proposed law change that would prevent rape complainants from being quizzed in court about their sexual history, saying the move was needed in the wake of the acquittal of the footballer Ched Evans.
Evans won his appeal last year in a case that centred on evidence from two other men who testified about the complainant’s sexual preferences and the language she used during sex.
A law change in 1999 had barred such court tactics, but permitted defence lawyers to apply to introduce a complainant’s previous sexual history under certain circumstances. The Evans case prompted significant disquiet about how this clause could be used. Harman has tabled an amendment to the government’s prisons and courts bill, which reaches the committee stage in the Commons next week, to remove the exception.
The idea of introducing a complainant’s sexual history into a rape trial had “no evidential value” and was deeply outdated, Harman said. “It’s based on the old notion that there were two sorts of women – those who were ‘easy’ and those who were virtuous – and if you were easy, you would have sex with anybody, because you were that sort of woman,” she said. “What you have to look at is the evidence and the information around that encounter, not any previous sexual encounters.”
But the sexual history had great evidential value here, which is exactly why you’re trying to ban it of course.