High profile criminal defence lawyer defends right to look at Grace Millane's sexual experience in murder trial

After weeks of detailed testimony, the Grace Millane murder trial ended with a guilty verdict.

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Marie Dyhrberg says a lengthy pre-trial would have looked at including the evidence. Source: Q+A

But the convicted man's defence team has been accused of putting the victim on trial by delving into explicit detail of her sex life.

High profile criminal defence lawyer Marie Dyhrberg disagrees and put the case for protecting a defendant's right to prove their innocence forward on TVNZ1's Q+A programme.

"I think what people may not understand is that by the time you get to trial there have been a number of pre-trial arguments in a number of areas one argument would have been how far would the defence go in introducing evidence of her sexual experience with other people," she said.

"You do not talk about this unless you have leave of the judge and if you do get leave there are still limitations."

She says being able to bring up evidence in sexual violence cases is a very high hurdle to get over for the defence.

"It used to feel like you had one hand tied behind your back, and it now feels like you have two hands tied behind your back, judges don't easily allow that evidence in," Ms Dyhrberg said.

The Government's Sexual Violence Legislation Bill - that looks at tightening the rules around evidence given in court about a complainant’s sexual history, as well as allowing victims the right to choose how they want to give evidence - has recently passed its first reading in Parliament.

Ms Dyhrberg isn't convinced they will help, saying they aren't victims until the alleged attacker has been found guilty, to begin with they are complainants.

She told Q+A host Jack Tame there are defendants who feel hamstrung by the current system and there are "two sides to this" debate.

If the new laws are passed, they will be "far more restrictive" according to Ms Dyhrberg.

"At the moment whatever sexual history you may have with a defendant may well have some bearing on what the case is all about so that is what one of the concerns that the discretion of judges on this evidence is going to be taken away."

Victims' advocate Ruth Money told TVNZ1’s Breakfast that the bill is long overdue, but it doesn’t go far enough.

“All of these suggestions came in a 2015 Law Commission report and we’re now in 2019 for the first reading,” said Ms Money.

“I have so many of my survivors who say the courtroom was worse than the rape or the sexual assault itself."

Q+A is on TVNZ1 on Mondays at 9.30pm, and the episode is then available on TVNZ OnDemand and as a podcast in all the usual places.