The Sexual Violence Legislation Bill has been introduced to Parliament by Justice Minister Andrew Little, on 11 November 2019. The bill amends the Evidence Act 2006, Victims’ Rights Act 2002, and the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 to reduce the retraumatisation victims of sexual violence may experience when they attend court and give evidence.
A 2015 Law Commission report found that the justice system often fails to respond appropriately to victims of sexual violence. The experiences of victims who have participated in prosecutions can deter others from reporting offences and lead to fear and mistrust of the criminal justice process.
The bill aims to clarify and extend restrictions on the admissibility of evidence about a complainant’s sexual experience in order to help dispel the idea that consent, or reasonable belief in consent, can be derived from a complainant having though about or consented to similar activity in a different context (clause 8 replacing sections 44 and 44A of the Evidence Act 2006 with new sections 44 to 44A).
The restrictions on evidence of a complainant’s sexual reputation and experience will be extended to civil cases also (clause 4(2) amending the definition of sexual case).
Judges will be required to intervene in inappropriate questioning of witnesses (clause 9 amending section 85).
Sexual violence complainants and propensity witnesses will be entitled to give their evidence in alternative ways in order to shield witnesses from some of the stress of appearing in the witness box (clause 11 replacing section 102 with new section 102). This entitlement will extend to pre-recorded cross-examination evidence.
Judges will be required to direct the jury on any myth or misconception relating to sexual violence that they consider relevant, unless it has been adequately addressed in evidence already (clause 16 inserting new section 126A).
The bill will allow the court to be cleared of the public when a sexual violence victim’s victim impact statement is presented and clarifies that these statements may be presented to the court in alternative ways (clause 22 replacing section 22A of the Victims’ Rights Act ).
Sections 4(1) and (3), 10 to 16, 24, 31, and 32 would come into force on the last of the date immediately after the end of the 6-month period that starts on the date of Royal assent or 1 July 2021.
The rest of the Act would come into force on the day after the Royal assent.