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Professor Joanne Conaghan

‘Patriarchal propositions: complainant sexual history evidence and the rape trial’

The use and abuse of evidence of a complainant’s prior sexual history in sexual offences trials has been a visible concern of criminal justice law and policy at least since the 1970s. Since then, most common law jurisdictions have introduced legislative restrictions on the admissibility of such evidence, producing an array of often complex regulatory regimes, subject to frequent revision, and none of which appear to have satisfactorily resolved the difficulties to which the use of such evidence gives rise. In this talk I probe the historical and philosophical underpinnings of the use of complainant sexual history evidence in rape trials. On what bases is / was such evidence introduced? What rationales found its deployment? How, and in what circumstances, can complainant sexual history evidence be said to ‘relevant’ to the issues to which the charge relates? I argue that to understand the problem which sexual history evidence presents – and move towards a solution thereto – we must go beyond the technical details of the evidential rules (whether operative or contested) to unearth and unsettle the core logic animating its deployments. In so doing I find that the challenge is not so much to limit the use of sexual history evidence in rape trials, but to find a way to displace the meanings and significance which law attaches to (female) sexual behaviour, which continue to be mired in its deeply patriarchal past.

Wednesday 18 May 2022 14: 00 CEST, 13:00 Irish and British Summer time