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Sunday, January 31, 1999 Published at 02:30 GMT

UK Politics

Straw may face challenge over rape law

Legislation to protect rape victims in court "could face challenge"

Home Secretary Jack Straw may face a challenge in the House of Lords over plans to protect rape victims from harrowing cross-examination in court, according to the Mail on Sunday.

Mr Straw has drawn up legislation aimed at stopping men who are accused of rape forcing their alleged victims to re-live the experience in detail during a trial.

[ image: Home Secretary Jack Straw: May face challenge in the House of Lords]
Home Secretary Jack Straw: May face challenge in the House of Lords
He also wants new laws to curb defendants from forcing a woman to reveal details of her sexual history in court.

But the Mail On Sunday says one of the country's most senior judges, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Bingham, is to move amendments to the Bill next week.

He has already issued guidelines to judges that detailed cross-examination should not be allowed unless it is vital to a fair trial.

Lord Bingham is now said to be planning an amendment to the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Bill in the Lords.

It is reported to say that a ban on detailed cross-examination of rape victims should not be enacted, unless there is evidence that those guidelines are not working.

[ image: Lord Bingham: Already issued guidelines on rape cases]
Lord Bingham: Already issued guidelines on rape cases
Another amendment is said to give judges the power to allow questioning of a victim's past sexual history, if judges decide it is necessary for a fair trial.

The Home Office said it was aware of the reports but would let the Parliamentary process take its due course.

"We cannot speculate on what may or may not happen when the Bill goes before the Lords," said a spokeswoman.

The new proposals follow two notorious cases in 1996. In one a woman was cross-examined for six days by defendant Ralston Edwards.

After he was convicted, she said she felt as though she had been raped again by the justice system.

In the second, a woman was subjected to 12 days in the witness box.

Lord Bingham has in the past raised fears that the proposed changes to the way in which rape cases are heard could lead to sex attackers walking free.

He said there had only been two cases in which the defendants' cross-examination of victims had caused problems.

"That does not seem to me a very strong basis on which to legislate," he told The Times last year.

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