In the Media

Bar Council hits back at Home Office

PUBLISHED June 25, 2006

The Bar Council has countered an attack by the Home Office claiming a report on barristers flouting rules in rape cases was "damaging" and "unrepresentative."

Stephen Hockman, QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: "The allegation that barristers are motivated by deviousness in their interpretation of the legislation devalues an interesting and useful report. 
"It ignores the predominant content of the interviews conducted with barristers and judges. Such a headline is as damaging to victims of sexual offences as it is unrepresentative of the conduct of the profession."

The Home Office report, published yesterday, said rules aiming to restrict defence barristers from depicting rape victims as promiscuous have been "evaded, circumvented and restricted." It blamed devious barristers and ignorant judges for the failure, claiming the rules have had "no discernible effect."

Nick Hilliard, Chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, said: "Only 23 effective trials were observed in the research. Of those cases, only 18 raised issues relating to previous sexual history.

"The report states that "specific questioning tended to be brief and to the point". Of barristers interviewed, several stated that, often, they would not seek leave to adduce a complainant?s previous sexual history ? even when it was likely to be granted - because they did not want to alienate the jury."

Mr Hilliard said the legislation, introduced in 1999, was "complex."

He said: "The Criminal Bar Association recognises the importance of quality standards in the prosecuting and defending of sexual offences cases. It is diligent in its continual training of its members in response to the flood of legislative changes."

"An accreditation scheme has been agreed with the Crown Prosecution Service whereby only appropriately trained barristers will be able to prosecute sexual offences cases. Both seminars and accreditation post-date the research."

"It is disappointing that the Report was not forwarded to the Bar Council before being sent to the press," Mr Hockman said. "I hope that complainants in rape cases will not be unnerved by newspaper headlines. Barristers remain committed and dedicated to maintaining the high standards in criminal justice which have gained the respect of the rest of the legal world."

The Bar Council and Criminal Bar Association both said they wished to work with the Home Office to consider any recommendations in the report that have not been addressed by recent training.