Lady Corbett: Ched Evans rape case did not conform to the law
The phone rang and my husband's voice sounded excited.
"Guess what?" said Robin, "I've drawn number two in the ballot for Private Member's Bills."
"Great" I said not at all excited. Private Member's Bills hardly ever make it into law. They are always worthy but successive Governments have never been enthusiastic enough to get behind them.
That evening I came home feeling very distressed. As Chair of Women's Aid in West Herts I had taken a badly beaten woman and two scared children into the refuge. As I took down her story with one hand, my
other hand was passing her many tissues. After photographing her we went to A and E and discovered that as well as huge bruises and a dislocated shoulder she had a cracked skull and needed many stitches in and around her cervical canal.
At home I asked my husband whether rape was possible between a married couple because she told me she had screamed "No" many times but he was too strong. I could see my husband mulling this over but he thought not - (this was the 1970s).
The next morning he said he was going to do some research into rape and after spending time in the Commons library and talking to lawyers and the police he announced that his Private Members Bill would be to grant anonymity for women in court and the media. And anonymity for alleged rapists until and unless found guilty.
No sooner had the newspapers reported this then hundreds of letters arrived for him from women describing their often horrendous experiences. He was much moved by many of them and told me he had definitely made the right choice.
On Thursday November 18, 1976 the Sexual Offences Bill came onto the floor of the House of Commons. But a snag soon appeared in the guise of a Tory MP who began a filibuster because he was against the Bill.
Unfortunately (for him) his bladder let him down and he was forced to rush out of the Chamber. No sooner had he disappeared then the Deputy Speaker proceeded to a division.
I quote verbatim from the Proceedings: "Mr Robin Corbett and Mr Andrew Bennet were appointed Tellers for the Ayes but no Member being willing to act as Teller for the Noes, Mr Deputy Speaker declared the
Ayes had it."
The Chamber resounded to cheers with much waving of order papers and then the doors were flung open and the filibustering MP rushed in and realised he was too late.
The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill was passed into law though the Thatcher government rescinded anonymity for the alleged rapist.
The Act has worked reasonably well especially since in 1999 the Blair government strengthened it by stopping the admission of previous sexual history in order to show consent.
I am glad Robin is no longer with us for he would've been appalled at the recent Ched Evans trial which did not conform to the law.
In court - to the fury of women's groups - the 24 year old waitress reportedly broke down after three hours under cross-examination during a trial that saw her liaisons with former lovers discussed as evidence.
Two previous lovers of the woman took the stand, one said she liked rough sex, the other gave his opinion that she was lying.
Vera Baird, Solicitor General in the last Labour government said of this case we had gone back 30 years. I agree and am certain Robin would have made some incendiary speeches from the red benches of the Lords.
Because of social networks the identity of the woman became known, one paper published her photo and was severely reprimanded but it was too late. Other papers printed photos of her mother and grandmother. So much for anonymity!
She has received a stream of abuse within her community and online, with trolls naming her on social media despite the law giving her lifetime anonymity.
As a result she is to relocate to another country without the comfort and support of her family and friends.
That spinning sound you hear is my husband turning in his grave.
Lady Corbett is the widow of Robin, Lord Corbett of Castle Vale who died in 2012. Because he was passionate about prisoner rehabilitation and was Chair of the all-party Penal Reform Group Lady Corbett has established an award, with the Prison Reform Trust. It provides funding for charities doing the most to support ex offenders by finding them a place to live and a job. 60% of ex-offenders return to prison within two years. That figure drops to19% when they have a job. The Robin Corbett Award for Prisoner Rehabilitation is chaired by Lord Ramsbotham (a former Inspector of Prisons) and is presented annually in the House of Commons.
Find out more about the award here.