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Last Updated: Tuesday, 25 September 2007, 15:23 GMT 16:23 UK
Rape trial trauma plans shelved
Anonymous rape victim
Only 5% of reported rapes end in a conviction.
Plans for expert witnesses to give evidence for the prosecution in rape trials about the trauma suffered by victims have been shelved by ministers.

The idea was part of a range of measures to boost the conviction rate in rape cases in England and Wales.

Instead, the government is proposing that statements about rape and its impact be presented to the jury.

Support group Rape Crisis welcomed the move, saying extra expert witnesses would have "over-psychologised" trials.

The rape law review, carried out by several government departments, is expected to be published in the next six weeks and has still to be approved.

It is understood that the idea of a statement in the form of a leaflet, drawn up by experts and agreed by both the defence and prosecution, has the backing of the Attorney General Lady Scotland and the Solicitor General Vera Baird.

'In person'

A spokeswoman from the Attorney General's Office said the idea of expert trauma witnesses had not been dismissed, it was just they would not appear in person.

"The rape consultation does examine the way in which rape juries can best be presented with expert evidence which in itself raises some complex issues," she said.

"These issues will also be covered in the government's response to the rape consultation paper."

Dr Nicole Westmarland, chair of Rape Crisis (England and Wales) and lecturer in Criminal Justice at Durham University, said making juries more aware about the myriad of ways that people respond to rape was a "positive move".

"We were concerned that trials were going to get over-psychologised with the inclusion of additional expert witnesses and were also worried that trials would get even longer and turn into 'battles of the experts'," she added.

Alcohol

In addition, the consultation contains no plans for a new legal definition of consent where the alleged victim is drunk.

Ministers have decided that an appeal court judgement in a case involving a man called Benjamin Bree has clarified the law.

In March, three Court of Appeal judges said in that case that someone who consumed "substantial" quantities of alcohol could still be capable of consenting to sex.

However, the judges said if a complainant lost the capacity to consent then that would amount to rape.

In a separate development, the BBC has learned the Attorney General will appear in person at the Court of Appeal next week in the case of Keith Fenn.

In July, Lady Scotland said she was appealing against the two-year sentence given to the window cleaner for raping a 10-year-old girl on the grounds - it was unduly lenient.




SEE ALSO
Appeal over 'short' rape sentence
20 Jul 07 |  Oxfordshire

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