The Law Commission said it would seek to dispel “rape myths” that may have contributed to a significant drop in the number of rape prosecutions in recent years.
The government announced earlier this year that it had asked the commission to review legislation, guidance and practice relating to the use of evidence in the prosecution of serious sexual offenses as part of a plan to action to bring the volume of rape cases before the courts back to 2016 levels by the end of this legislature.
Responding today, the commission said it would look at ways to counter misconceptions about why complainants delay reporting sexual assault and the relevance of a lack of resilience or injury. The current provision allowing evidence of the complainant’s sexual history to be admitted in limited circumstances will be reconsidered. The commission will also consider whether the test of using the complainant’s medical and counseling records should be stricter.
Professor Penney Lewis, Commissioner for Criminal Law, said: ‘Victims of sexual offenses may be deterred from reporting the offense or supporting a prosecution if they fear the experience of going to court. Our project will examine how to improve the trial process to combat “rape myths”, admit only relevant evidence and better protect complainants, while ensuring a fair trial for defendants. »
A consultation document is expected to be released next summer, with final recommendations the following year.
The commission said the bill would not consider reforming the law relating to the anonymity of a complainant. This issue will be explored in a future project on contempt of court.
Justice Minister Victoria Atkins said the commission’s work will build on the government’s action plan to increase the volume of rape cases going through the justice system, which also includes performance dashboards. The first national adult rape offense scorecard was released earlier this month.