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Monday, 7 August, 2000, 12:48 GMT 13:48 UK
Court protection for rape victims
Law changes
MPs, judges and women's groups have called for change
Alleged rape victims will no longer have to undergoing harrowing cross-examinations in court by those accused of attacking them, after a change in the law.

Defendants who choose to represent themselves in court, rather than employing a barrister, will lose the right to question their alleged victims from 4 September.

The move aims to ease the ordeal for women who report rape and encourage more victims to come forward.

Children will also receive more protection from defendants' questioning under the legal changes announced on Monday.

Child victims

The changes only apply to courts in England and Wales but similar proposals to protect rape victims in Scotland are expected to go before the devolved parliament in the autumn.

Home Office minister Charles Clarke said he hoped the changes would help rape victims.

"Banning unrepresented defendants from questioning victims in court in rape and sexual offence cases will, I hope, go some way to lessen the ordeal for those who have had the courage to bring the case," he said.

Children are already spared questioning from a defendant accused of rape, sex offences or violence.

Now child victims and witnesses will not have to answer to anyone accused of kidnapping, false imprisonment or child abduction.

Outcry

The changes come three years after Labour backbenchers called on the government to end defendants' rights to quiz rape victims.

A total of 64 MPs, more than half of them women, tabled a House of Commons motion calling for the change.

In 1997 Ralston Edwards spent six days at the Old Bailey cross-examining his victim.

The case provoked outcry from women's groups, who said that a judge's power to stop abusive questioning was too weak.

Home Secretary, Jack Straw, pledged action shortly afterwards.

"Women who have been raped should not be victims twice over," Mr Straw said at the time.

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See also:

19 May 00 | UK Politics
Sex laws to be reformed
26 Jun 00 | Scotland
Rape trial action plan unveiled
31 Jan 99 | UK Politics
Straw may face challenge over rape law
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