Evaluating Scotland’s ’rape shield’ laws

The University of Glasgow has contributed to an evaluation of a Scottish law that restricts the use of evidence of a complainer’s character or sexual history in sexual offences trials.

’The Use of Sexual History Evidence and Sensitive Private Data in Scottish Rape and Attempted Rape Trials’, led by Professor Sharon Cowan from the Edinburgh Law School at the University of Edinburgh, evaluates the current implementation of the Scottish ’rape shield’ law, in light of shifts in law, policy, and practice over the last two decades.

The research findings highlight areas where there has been clear, progressive change, as well as areas where further review and improvements are needed to strengthen the rape shield in practice.

Eamon Keane, of the University of Glasgow’s School of Law, was part of the project, together with Professor Vanessa Munro from the University of Warwick.

Scottish Government’s Justice Secretary Angela Constance said: "I welcome this research, funded by a grant from the Scottish Government, as part of a wider programme of research around how we might further understand and improve people’s experience of justice. The report shows that although some progress has been made, gender stereotypes still exist that can unfairly challenge the credibility and reliability of complainers in serious sexual offence cases. This is completely unacceptable.

"The Victims, Witnesses and Justice Reform (Scotland) Bill includes a proposal for victims to have a right to publicly funded independent legal representation when applications are made to use evidence of their sexual history or character in sexual offence cases. This will mean that complainers will be told when an application has been made, including information about what evidence is being sought and the proposed questioning, and give them the right to appeal certain decisions - which is currently not the case."