MP proposes UK rape shield law to protect victims in court

A private member’s bill to protect rape victims from being cross-examined in court about their sexual history is to be introduced to the House of Commons.

The introduction on Wednesday of the US-style “rape shield law” by the Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts has attracted strong cross-party support, including from two Conservative former ministers.

The sexual offences (amendment) bill 2017 also contains measures to protect sexual assault victims who are attending school or college, place limits on the disclosure of a victim’s name by police to a rapist the victim does not know, and extend the range of offences that can be referred to the court of appeal for unduly lenient sentences.

Supporters of the bill include the Conservative MPs Sarah Wollaston, Sir Edward Garnier and Tim Loughton, Labour’s Jess Phillips, Graham Allen and Carolyn Harris, and Scottish National party, Social Democratic and Labour party, and Liberal Democrat MPs.

The new law would prevent the cross-examination of rape victims about their sexual history, previous behaviour or appearance.

The current law, introduced by Jack Straw when he was home secretary, is supposed to restrict cross-examination of a rape victim’s sexual history in court, but includes an exemption for “similar fact” evidence.

Last year, concerns were expressed over a court of appeal decision permitting such evidence in the case of the footballer Ched Evans, who was acquitted of rape in a retrial.

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