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Rape Convictions

Volume 403: debated on Monday 10 March 2003

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If she will make a statement on recent trends in the number of convictions for rape. [108261]

Recent trends show an increase in the number of convictions for rape, but a fall in the percentage of reported rapes that result in a conviction. Of all the serious offences of violence, rape is least likely to be reported, least likely to be prosecuted and least likely to result in a conviction. The Government and the voluntary sector are working with the police, the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to improve both law and practice to ensure that rapists are brought to justice.

I welcome that reply. A number of people in the criminal justice system believe that rape conviction rates would rise dramatically if every initial police interview was video-recorded. Does the Solicitor-General agree with that view and will she take steps to initiate a more thorough approach to ensure that such initial interviews are video-recorded so that juries see the reality of the impact of those violent crimes on the victims?

My hon. Friend raises an important issue. Some police forces routinely video-record the initial complaint when the victim comes in. They do that so that she can say it once off and they put the statement together afterwards, without having to go through it slowly, stopping and starting, thereby increasing the ordeal. The question then is whether that practice can be spread to all police forces, so that all complainants have those facilities. Secondly, what is done with those video recordings? Can they be used in court as evidence to show how the victim was when she first reported the incident? She might look cool as a cucumber when she actually gives evidence, but the video recording made when she first complained might show her dishevelled and distressed. There are issues about the admissibility of evidence and they are being looked at by the police, the prosecutors and the courts, together with me and my colleagues in the Home Office.

Although we congratulate the Government and support them on anything that they do to enable the successful prosecution of rape offences, will the Solicitor-General give some thought to charges against men that are made erroneously? Can the reporting of cases be not allowed unless there is a guilty verdict?

The hon. Gentleman raises the issue of the anonymity of a defendant on the basis that there is a great deal of prejudice against them if allegations are aired in court, in public. The victim is, of course, anonymous but the defendant's name is in the papers. The question relates to whether an acquittal would expunge all that prejudice or whether it would hang around. The issue is important. As regards openness in court proceedings, the fundamental principle is that, if at all possible, everything should be done in public and everything should be on the record: justice should not only be done but should be seen to be done. The exception for victims of sexual offences was introduced by the House, because victims were not prepared to come forward. An exception was made to the normal rule that everything is public only because otherwise victims would not report. Defendants do not have the luxury of not coming forward—they have to come forward—so the issue of deterring them does not arise, and the normal rule that everything should be in public, unless there are exceptional reasons, should prevail. There are no plans to give defendants anonymity.