The Law Commission has said it will seek to dispel ‘rape myths’ that may have contributed towards a significant decline in the number of rape prosecutions over the past few years.
The government announced earlier this year that it had asked the commission to examine law, guidance and practice relating to the use of evidence in prosecutions of serious sexual offences as part of an action plan to return the volume of rape cases going through the court to 2016 levels by the end of this parliament.
Responding today, the commission said it will examine ways to counter misconceptions about the reasons why complainants delay reporting sexual assault and the relevance of a lack of resistance or injury. The current provision allowing admission of evidence of the complainant’s sexual history in limited circumstances will be reviewed. The commission will also consider whether the test for using the complainant’s medical and counselling records should be more stringent.
Professor Penney Lewis, law commissioner for criminal law, said: ‘Victims of sexual offences can be deterred from reporting the offence or supporting a prosecution if they fear the experience of going to court. Our project will consider how to improve the trial process to address “rape myths”, admit only relevant evidence and better protect complainants, whilst ensuring a fair trial for defendants.’
A consultation paper is expected to be published next summer, with final recommendations the following year.
The commission said the project will not consider reforming the law relating to anonymity of a complainant. This will be considered as part of 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 scorecards. The first national scorecard for adult rape offences was published earlier this month.