Part 2: Using Evidence of Previous Sexual History in Rape Cases – The Ched Evans case

Following on from Part 1, which introduced the case of Ched Evans and the issues around admitting evidence of a complainant’s previous sexual history in rape cases, this post continues the discussion of the case and specifically addresses the legal provision that allows a complainant’s sexual history to be admitted as evidence in exceptional circumstances. Similar to Part 1, this piece will continue to refer to the complainant at the centre of the Evans case as ‘X’.

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Using Evidence of Previous Sexual History in Rapes Cases: The Ched Evans case, Part 2

by Molly Joyce

Admission of Evidence About a Complainant’s Sexual History

Section 41 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (YJCEA 1999) sets out the basic legal position regarding the admission of evidence about a complainant’s sexual behaviour/history in sexual offence trials. That position is: such evidence is not allowed unless the accused person gets the court’s permission to admit it.[1] The court will only give this permission to an accused person if one of four specific exceptions is met. These exceptions provide for limited situations in which evidence about a complainant’s sexual history/sexual behaviour can be brought into a trial and considered by a jury.

These four exceptions outlined in the legislation are complex. In essence, they provide as follows:

  1. The evidence relates to a relevant issue in the case and that issue is not one of consent.
  2. The evidence is produced in order to rebut or explain any evidence brought forward by the prosecution about the complainant’s sexual behaviour.
  3. The evidence relates to the issue of consent and the sexual behaviour of the complainant to which the evidence relates took place at or about the same time as the incident which is the subject matter of the criminal charge against the accused (i.e. this other sexual behaviour of the complainant took place within hours of the incident that is the subject matter of the criminal proceedings).
  4. The evidence relates to the issue of consent and the sexual behaviour of the complainant to which the evidence relates is so similar to either

(a) the complainant’s sexual behaviour at the time of the incident, or

(b) to any other sexual behaviour of the complainant which took place at or about the same time as the incident,

            that the similarity cannot reasonably be explained as a coincidence.

The third and fourth exceptions outlined above essentially relate to situations where the accused alleges the complainant consented to the sexual activity in question and wants to bring in evidence either about the complainant’s other consensual sexual conduct at the time of the alleged sexual offence (the third exception) or the complainant’s similar consensual sexual conduct at other times (the fourth exception).

In addition to the above, before giving permission, the court must:

  • Be satisfied that, if it doesn’t give permission for such evidence to be admitted, there would be a risk the jury or court would reach an unsafe conclusion on a relevant issue in the case.
  • Consider whether it is reasonable to assume that the purpose or main purpose of introducing this evidence about the complainant’s sexual behaviour is to dispute the credibility of the complainant as a witness: if it can be reasonably assumed that this is the purpose or main purpose, the evidence will not be allowed.
  • Be satisfied that the evidence relates to a specific instance (or specific instances) of the complainant’s sexual behaviour i.e. it cannot just be wide-ranging evidence about the complainant’s general sexual behaviour.

Evans argued that the testimony of Mr O and Mr H (two men who had had sexual relations with X before and after the occasion on which Evans had sex with her) about X’s sexual behaviour should be admitted on the basis of the fourth exception i.e. that her sexual behaviour on the occasions she had had sex with Mr O and Mr H was so similar to her sexual behaviour on the 29 May 2011 (as described in evidence by Evans), the similarity could not be explained as a coincidence and tended to suggest X actually consented to the sexual activity with Evans.

Mr O gave evidence that he had had sex with X approximately two weeks after the incident with Evans on 29 May 2011. Mr H indicated that he had had sex with X on a number of occasions between March and May 2011. The core elements of Mr O and Mr H’s evidence was that: on the occasions on which they’d had consensual sex with X, she had been out drinking; she had engaged in sexual intercourse in a particular way; she was an enthusiastic participant and directed her sexual partners to have sex with her in particular positions including “the doggie position”; and she used the distinctive expressions “fuck me harder” and “go harder” with both men.[2] Evans argued that X’s sexual behaviour described by Mr O and Mr H was extremely similar to Evans’ own description of X’s sexual behaviour when he spoke to the police, that this similarity could not be reasonably explained as coincidence and that this evidence supported Evans’ defence that X was capable of consenting and did consent to having sex with him on 29 May 2011.[3]

Whether this evidence of Mr O and Mr H should be admitted was accordingly the key question for the Court of Appeal in considering Evans’ appeal against his conviciton.

The prosecution argued that X’s sexual behaviour as described by Mr O and Mr H was not relevant in this case and that it was not sufficiently similar to Evans’ description of X’s behaviour.[4] In particular, the prosecution emphasised that even if this “fresh evidence” of Mr O and Mr H was credible, it did not reveal any kind of unusual behaviour on the part of X. Rather, X’s behaviour as described by Mr O and Mr H was commonplace and it could be reasonably explained as coincidence that she had used these words while with Evans on 29 May 2011.[5] Alternatively, the prosecution argued that this evidence of Mr O and Mr H was not credible and was not in any regard consistent with Evans’ account. In particular, the prosecution suggested that Mr O and Mr H may have been fed information by people close to Evans in order that they would make statements which would support him in his appeal.[6]

Evans’ lawyers argued in response to these points that the prosecution was isolating each aspect of the sexual behaviour alleged and ignoring the cumulative effect of that behaviour. Specifically, Evans’ lawyers argued that the specific phrases “fuck me harder” and “go harder” were sufficiently similar to satisfy the test of similarity: taking these phrases together with the other behaviour alleged then led to a “compelling” impact and meant this evidence was very relevant.[7] As regards the prosecution’s suspicion of the two witnesses’ motives, Evans’ lawyers responded that if it was the case that these two men were lying to help Evans, they surely would have provided these details at a much earlier stage. Evans’ lawyers further highlighted the two men’s previous good character and suggested that, despite some relatively distant connections with Evans’ friends and family, there was no reason to conclude either man was lying.[8]

In reaching its conclusion, the Court of Appeal noted that this was an unusual case insofar as the only witness to sexual activity and only evidence as to the sexual activity came from Evans himself. In putting forward his defence that X was capable of consenting and did consent, he was therefore able to rely on little more than his own account of her behaviour.[9]

The Court went on to describe Evans’ account to the police of what happened on 29 May 2011 in the hotel room: they emphasised that his account to police described in graphic detail the sexual behaviour of X. This account given to police was extremely similar to the account given of X’s sexual behaviour by Mr O and Mr H, two men who had had consensual sex with X in the days before the alleged rape and the days after it. The Court described this similar behaviour as such: “[o]n each occasion she had been drinking, she is said to have instigated certain sexual activity, directed her sexual partner into certain positions, and used specific words of encouragement.”[10] They concluded that they were satisfied that, on the facts in this case, the evidence of Mr O and Mr H came within the exception 4(a) outlined above i.e. Mr O and Mr H’s evidence related to the issue of consent and X’s sexual behaviour as described in their evidence was “so similar” to X’s sexual behaviour at the time of the alleged rape (as described by Evans), that it could not be reasonably explained as a coincidence.[11]

The Court specifically noted that there did not need to be anything unusual or bizarre about the behaviour in question, despite the prosecution’s arguments to the contrary. Rather, that behaviour simply had to be sufficiently similar that it could not be reasonably explained as a coincidence.[12]

In reaching this conclusion, the Court further found that Mr O and Mr H’s evidence was capable of belief. They noted that the prosecution was unable to point to anything of significance to show that the two men had changed their accounts or been prepared to lie in order to assist Evans and the prosecution was further unable to undermine the two men’s integrity or credibility when cross-examining them before the Court of Appeal. Having said this, the Court noted that the prosecution did possibly have some material that could help undermine these witnesses’ credibility at a retrial and this would allow the two men’s evidence to be thoroughly and rigorously tested.[13]

Before allowing new evidence to be admitted as a basis for quashing a conviction, the Court must be satisfied that there is a reasonable explanation for the failure to call this evidence at the first trial. Here, they found there was a reasonable explanation: Mr O’s existence and potential relevance was not known at the time of the first trial and Mr H, although known to have had a sexual relationship with X, had not given any detail of this sexual activity and this detail and its potential relevance was not therefore known.[14]

The Court emphasised in its judgment that it had reached its conclusion that this evidence was to be admitted with “a considerable degree of hesitation.”[15] The Court further acknowledged that a complainant should be protected from “intrusive and unnecessary questioning” about their sexual history, particularly where that sexual history concerned activity with third parties, and emphasised that such evidence should only be allowed in rare cases. It was their judgment, however, that this was potentially such a rare case.[16]

In these circumstances, and in the interests of ensuring a fair trial in which all relevant and admissible evidence is included, the Court of Appeal concluded that Evans’ conviction for rape should be overturned and ordered a retrial in order that the matter be resolved by a jury.[17] It is quite rare for the Court of Appeal to order a retrial in circumstances where the person has already served their sentence and a retrial is only ordered where the court believes it is in the interests of justice to do so. In this case, the court emphasised that the offence was a serious one and on this basis apparently believed it necessary to have a retrial.[18]

The final post in this three-part series will examine the consequences of the Court of Appeal’s decision in Evans’ case and discuss what the case might mean for future complainants in rape cases.

A Note on the Women Are Boring blog

Women Are Boring is dedicated to disseminating interesting research, opinion and analysis by interesting women.  As with all things worth doing, we are aware that research is debatable and worthy of contestation. This is something we encourage. As such, the opinions and views shared are those of each individual article’s author.

[1] See s.41(1) YJCEA 1999.

[2] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [39].

[3] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [39].

[4] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [55].

[5] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [56].

[6] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [59].

[7] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [58].

[8] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [59].

[9] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [70].

[10] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [71].

[11] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [72]. The Court also noted that this evidence may be admitted on the basis that the issue was not one of consent insofar as it was actually an issue relating to the question of Evans’ “reasonable belief” in X’s consent.

[12] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [73].

[13] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [67].

[14] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [69].

[15] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [74].

[16] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [74].

[17] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [75].

[18] Chedwyn Evans v R [2016] EWCA Crim 452, [75].

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