Pre-Recorded Evidence Procedure Being Rolled-Out for Rape Complainants

May 11, 2017

New procedural measures are being introduced in a phased rolled-out which give alleged rape victims the option to pre-record evidence instead of facing live cross-examination in court. The changes have come in as part of a number of developments in the justice system and follow from the success of pilot schemes using pre-recorded evidence in cases of child sexual abuse. Other measures being introduced include a crackdown on paedophiles who use social media to groom children, with a new offence of “sexual communication with a child” being brought in which will impose a maximum two-year prison sentence on perpetrators and an automatic listing on the sex offender’s register.

The phased roll-out for pre-recorded evidence for complainants will begin in September 2017 in three centres: Kingston upon Thames, Leeds and Liverpool, and will apply as an option to witnesses of sexual offences who are vulnerable or are found to be intimidated by the process. Findings from this first phase of the roll-out will be used to inform a national roll-out.

Justice Secretary Liz Truss has said the proposed changes to rape trials would prevent complainants facing the trauma of confronting their attackers in a way that would not reduce the right to a fair trial. It will allow judges to limit the length of cross-examination to avoid complainants having to testify in court for days on end and will also enable judges to cut out any inappropriate cross-examination relating to an alleged victim’s sexual history before the evidence is presented to a jury.

James Conte, the founder of Accused.me.uk, a support group for victims of false allegations argued: “Whilst we would welcome measures that would increase the rape convictions of people who really have committed rape, if you are wholly innocent of someone trying to frame you, you will not welcome these changes because they will increase your chances of being wrongfully convicted.”

Rape prosecutions are at record highs and the court system is struggling to cope with the high volume of caseloads. Latest figures show there were 1,300 rape convictions in 2015 – up 63 per cent since 2005 and the highest number convicted in the last decade. Rape case referrals to the Crown Prosecution Service from the police rose to 6,855 in 2015-16 – an 11% increase on the previous year. Out of the 6,855 referrals, 3,910 resulted in charges and 1,300 in convictions.

However, there is growing concern the new measures would place the defendant in rape trials at an unfair disadvantage and could amount to a breach of the defendant’s right to a fair trial. Tom Smith and Ed Johnston, lecturers at Bristol Law School, said in an article for the Justice Gap that the new procedure could be problematic in terms of a person’s right to a fair trial, as it places the complainant in the frame of a victim before the case has commenced. This may give a jury an impression of the complainant as the victim and help to form an unfair bias against the defendant.

Sources: H. Summers, The Guardian, Rape victims to be spared ordeal of cross-examination in court: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/mar/19/victims-rape-spared-ordeal-cross-examination-court

Hughes, The Telegraph, Rape victims to be spared court cross-examination as Government brings forward plans for pre-recorded video evidence: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/19/rape-victims-will-allowed-give-pre-recorded-video-evidence/

Rozenberg, Full Fact, What changes are being made to pre-recorded evidence from alleged rape victims? https://fullfact.org/law/changes-pre-recorded-evidence-alleged-rape-victims-truss-thomas/

T.Smith, E.Johnston, The Justice Gap, A question of balance: pre-recorded cross-examination of rape complainants and fair trial rights http://thejusticegap.com/2017/03/question-balance-pre-recorded-cross-examination-rape-complainants-fair-trial-rights/

Tuckers Rape & Sexual Offences Solicitors Manchester UK

Tuckers Solicitors is recognised as the UK’s leading criminal law firm and should be the first choice for anyone facing rape allegations. With ten offices in London, Birmingham and Manchester, our offices are open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, ensuring the delivery of immediate expert legal advice and representation. Our award-winning and astute lawyers are always on hand to ensure that those arrested are able to receive practical and timely advice, and are fully prepared for giving evidence in court.

We act for over 15,000 clients a year, from all sections of society. All have one thing in common: they are innocent until proven guilty and our lawyers will do everything within the rules to ensure that their best interests are served. Our lawyers are known for their strategic expertise as well as the outstanding client service they provide, whilst ensuring that high profile cases are kept out of the public eye.

The firm is structured into dedicated teams, led by expert solicitors; the Sexual Offences team being led by Stuart Sutton. Tuckers Solicitors has a first-class in-house advocacy team, consisting of Barristers and Solicitor Higher Court Advocates. For more information please contact our London Office on 020 7388 8333, Manchester Office on 016 1233 4321 or Birmingham Office on 012 1236 4324 or email info@tuckerssolicitors.com