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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 November 2007, 14:46 GMT
Video statements for rape trials
Distressed woman
Ministers have long been concerned about low rape conviction rates
Video recordings of statements made to police by alleged rape victims can now be used as their main evidence in court, the government has announced.

Complaints of rape will also be automatically admissible to the court, regardless of how long after an alleged attack they are made.

And an expert panel will be set up to tackle "myths" about rape that may affect decisions made by jurors.

Only 5.7% of reported rapes in England and Wales currently end in conviction.

Announcing the new measures, Solicitor General Vera Baird said that only 15% of rapes were reported.

Of that 15%, 5.7% ended in conviction - a figure which is up from 5.2% in 2005.

We think it's part of one of the myths about rape that it's such a traumatic thing that you will come out and complain about it straight away
Solicitor General Vera Baird

She told a press conference the government was giving "every rape complainant the opportunity to have their final statement videoed and automatically admitted at court".

"This will reduce the amount of time she will have to spend reliving her ordeal in court," Ms Baird added.

The new option would be a "special measure" - meaning alleged victims could still give their evidence-in-chief in court, she added.

But victims would still have to attend court for cross-examination.

'Myths' addressed

Ms Baird said evidence admissibility rules are to be changed to enable victim statements to be shown to a jury regardless of how long after the attack the complaint to police was made.

"We think it's part of one of the myths about rape that it's such a traumatic thing that you will come out and complain about it straight away," Ms Baird said.

"It can take a long time to get up and talk about something so intimate and undermining."

There are people in positions in the criminal justice system who are supposed to be protecting us, there are people in power stopping cases getting through and blocking changes being made
Ruth Hall
Women Against Rape

A panel of experts would address such myths and then decide the best way to make jurors aware of them, Ms Baird announced.

The three new measures follow a consultation with experts on the crime.

Capacity issue

Also considered in the consultation was whether there was a need to make the law on rape cases clear where an allegation is made after heavy drinking.

But, since the consultation was carried out, three Court of Appeal judges have clarified the issue.

In March, they said someone who consumed "substantial" quantities of alcohol could still be capable of consenting to sex.

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

Ruth Hall, from the support group Women Against Rape, welcomed the new moves but said sexism was the real barrier to more prosecutions.

"There are people in positions in the criminal justice system who are supposed to be protecting us, there are people in power stopping cases getting through and blocking changes being made," she said.

"The sexism runs very deep - it won't be changed until a few have to actually be sacked or disciplined so the others know it now is being taken seriously."

Two weeks ago, Conservative leader David Cameron called for tougher sentences for rapists, saying too many men "think they can get away with it".

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