Lawyers split over Ched Evans rape acquittal debate

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Charlotte Proudman even hung up phone in radio interview bust-up about the issue


Footballer Ched Evans was controversially acquitted of rape earlier this month, and lawyers are still squabbling over whether this was the right decision.

Welsh sportsman Evans served two-and-a-half-years in prison for the rape of a 19-year-old woman in 2011. The Court of Appeal quashed his conviction in April this year, and Evans was eventually acquitted of rape at his retrial.

The acquittal has prompted polarised opinion about the law of rape, the way in which rape complainants and defendants are treated in the criminal justice system and how criminal trials are conducted. There is particular contention surrounding victims’ sexual history and whether this should be disclosed in court.

Among the loudest voices in this debate are the lawyers, like Vera Baird QC. The Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria has penned a strongly-worded article in The Guardian in which she argues:

By clearing the way for two men to tell the jury they’d had sex with the complainant, the Court of Appeal effectively converted [Evans’] earlier conviction into an acquittal. Some lawyers say this was a rare case and doubt that, as a precedent, it will affect many future cases. But other lawyers — and I am one of them — fear that rape trials could become inquisitions into the complainant’s sex life.

This comment has riled some lawyers.

Criminal barrister Douglas Lloyd, for one, described Baird’s opinion piece as “complete drivel” and “dangerous scaremongering”.

The article, he said, paints a misleading picture of the criminal justice system and its treatment of rape complainants. He also said her piece “stinks of jumping on a bandwagon”.

In response to Lloyd’s criticism, fellow criminal lawyer Nicholas Diable took the opportunity to slam Baird for her involvement in the “destruction of legal aid”.

Another barrister questioned whether Baird had read the full Evans transcript, while Simon Myerson QC suggested her views are not based on knowledge.

Though the jibes from the legal profession are coming thick and fast, it’s worth noting many spectators have shared Baird’s article on social media, perhaps in solidarity with her viewpoint.

And take Charlotte Proudman. The family law barrister and feminist commentator spoke via telephone on a radio show hosted by Julia Hartley-Brewer this weekend. The forthright broadcaster repeatedly interrupted Proudman — who notably made public a private, sexist message she received from a senior solicitor — when she attempted to voice her concern about Evans’ acquittal. Proudman eventually hung up the phone when Hartley-Brewer called the complainant “a slut”.