Cross-examination of victims of sexual offences

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Although under common law the victim of a sexual offence was offered some protection against hostile cross-examination, in reality many cases of this sort hinged on damaging the credibility of the victim as a witness. One way to do this was to expose evidence of the vitim's sexual histoy; if it could be shown that the victim was a woman of wide experience, this was felt to weaken a claim of rape. As well as producing evidence of dubious probative value, the process was often harrowing for the witness.

Under the Sexual offences ammendment act (1976), there are significant statutory limitations on the cross-examination of vitims of sexual offences. These apply in particular to Rape and Burglary with intent to rape. In such cases, the leave of the court must be sought to question a rape victim about her (or his) previous sexual experience with anyone other than the accused. Such leave will normally not be granted unless it can be shown that the information is directly relelvant to the facts of the case. For example, if the victim alleges that a sexual act must have been rape because she would never have consented to sex in a particular place or manner, and it can be shown in cross-examination that she has consented in such circumstances with other men, then this is relevant to the case. However, if the cross-examination seeks merely to show that the victim is a woman of loose morals, this will normally be refused.