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Friday, 1 November, 2002, 14:43 GMT
New rape law 'will protect victims'
Court scene
Concerns about the system were raised
A law which bars people accused of rape from personally questioning their alleged victims in court has come into force in Scotland.

The Sexual Offences (Procedures and Evidence) (Scotland) Act was designed to increase the legal protection given to victims making an allegation of sexual assault and rape.

It follows a number of infamous cases in which the accused have questioned their alleged victims in court.

Under the new legislation, the accused must be legally represented throughout the trial - with their lawyers carrying out any questioning of witnesses.

Lindsay Armstrong
Lindsay Armstrong: Killed herself after court case

The move brings Scotland in line with the rest of the UK.

The issue was highlighted in 2000 when rape accused John Anderson was allowed to question a 13-year-old girl and her mother, whom he was accused of raping. He was later acquitted.

Ministers expressed their determination to stop the practice, which was described as "unreasonable, unnecessary and offensive".

Under the new law, a woman's sexual history will only be allowed to be put to jurors if prosecutors can reveal the accuser's previous convictions.

Justice Minister Jim Wallace accepted the new act was not perfect, but welcomed it as major step forward.

He added it would spare victims a further ordeal in the witness box.

Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Wallace said: "I don't think anyone pretends that this is an ideal answer, but I think it does address some very serious shortcomings in the system.


In one case, he deliberately wore the clothes he raped her in while he was cross-examining her

Lynne Harne
Rape Crisis Federation

"We do remember those cases where the victim was cross-examined by the alleged perpetrator of the assault and that has been addressed by this legislation.

"Any victim of rape or any other sexual assault going to give evidence is not an easy experience.

"What we must try and do is address these issues that have been shown to cause problems and I think with this legislation we have done that."

The move was welcomed by the Rape Crisis Federation.

Spokeswoman Lynne Harne said it would cut the risk of rape victims being "intimidated" by their attackers during the trial.

"In one case, he deliberately wore the clothes he raped her in while he was cross-examining her and that was for five days," she told the BBC.

She added that the law change should increase the conviction rate for rapes.

Jim Wallace
Jim Wallace: Law removes traumatic hurdle

The Scottish Executive has expressed concern at the low rate of rape convictions in Scottish courts, with the adversarial nature of High Court trials seen as a deterrent to some victims of sex attacks.

In the year 2000, the last year for which Scots statistics are available, 27 men were found guilty of rape, while police investigated 562 allegations.

Sandy Brindley, spokeswoman for Glasgow Rape Crisis, said she believed victims would now feel more confident about complaining of rape.

"We very much welcome the Act and the commitment it signals, but it's not going to fully address the concerns that are there about the justice system," she said.

"What we argued is that the profile given to cases where the cross-examination was done by the accused was putting women off reporting rape because they were worried about being cross-examined."

Calls for rape law reform were renewed this year when it emerged that teenage rape victim Lindsay Armstrong committed suicide.

Sandy Brindley
Sandy Brindley welcomed the Act

Her family said she had been "tortured" by the assault and by the way she was treated when she testified against her attacker.

Her attacker, who was under 16, was ordered to be detained for four years and placed under a supervision order for a further three years

He was found guilty in June of sexually assaulting Miss Armstrong near her home in New Cumnock, Ayrshire, last September.

Her parents, Frank and Linda, said Lindsay took her own life on 16 July because she could not cope with the ordeal or her treatment by the defence when she gave evidence.

She was asked twice to hold up the underwear she had been wearing at the time of the attack.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Andrew Cassell
"It is hoped the change will encourage more victims to go to court"
Justice Minister Jim Wallace
"I don' think anyone pretends this is a whole answer"
Reevel Alderson reports
"Ministers are concerned at the low rate of conviction for rape."
See also:

17 Sep 02 | Scotland
22 Mar 02 | Scotland
22 Mar 02 | Scotland
26 Sep 01 | Scotland
28 Jun 01 | Scotland
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