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Crossing the line

Cross-examination techniques should be adapted to protect victims – but we must not impose too many limits, argues Jeannie Mackie

4 July 2011

There can be fewer harsher illustrations of the perils of our trade than the pictures in the press last week following the Milly Dowler trial. Seeing the bloated ugliness of a triple murderer side by side with the unbearably young and bonny face of that poor lost girl wrung the heart, and would wring the hearts of anyone, however defence minded and court hardened the bearer of those hearts might be.

The debate that has followed is one which it is good to have: we should, as citizens as well as lawyers, keep the mind open about how we do our work, and how our tactics in court should adapt to changing social circumstances. It is not that long since barristers in rape trials could hold up women’s knickers in court to demonstrate they were tarts for wearing them, and were able to say that if a girl had ever had sex she was up for it with anyone.

The feminist movement got rid of those tactics: is it time that the victim movement got rid of the kind of cross-examination co...

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