Skip to main content

Media Reporting (Criminal Cases)

Volume 462: debated on Thursday 28 June 2007

22. What steps he is taking to ensure that media reporting does not prejudice fair trials; and if he will make a statement. (146040)

The Attorney-General has in the past issued advice to the media about reporting proceedings, including specific advice on coverage of individual cases, to help to avoid potential prejudice of fair trials. The right to a fair trial has to be balanced with the qualified right to freedom of expression under the European convention on human rights. The public have a right to be kept informed of developments in cases and there must be a substantial risk of serious prejudice to proceedings for there to be any interference with that right.

The Fawcett Society estimates that less than 15 per cent. of rape is reported, and a major influence on whether someone—especially a woman—proceeds with her case is believed to be the prospect of adverse reporting and the naming, and almost shaming, of her past life. What further steps can my hon. and learned Friend take to guarantee anonymity in those cases?

Protecting the anonymity of complainants in rape cases is enormously important. More women—and, indeed, men—who are victims of rape are reporting the incidents, and that is positive. However, rape is difficult to prove, especially in cases in which those involved knew each other and the central issue is consent. It is therefore important that the Law Officers respond cautiously to requests to enable the courts to publish names. Indeed, such a request has been made in the Warren Blackwell case. We are anxious to ensure that those who are considering reporting rape can know that they retain an appropriate level of anonymity and that their names will not be published in newspapers unnecessarily.

Does the Solicitor-General agree that one of the problems that we have experienced with applying the European convention on human rights is associated with the role of the Attorney-General? In the past few years, we have relied far too much on questions relating to the interpretation of the law on human rights. If we are to have a new Attorney-General, he should not only be in the House of Commons, but he should not be totally committed to the European convention on human rights in all its shapes and forms.

As one of the Ministers who took through the Human Rights Act 1998 and introduced the convention to law, may I defend it, especially in the context of the question, which is, to some extent, about the freedom of the press? The Human Rights Act enshrines some of those freedoms. Before the hon. Gentleman starts to say that he wishes to remove them from people like those who sit in the Press Gallery, he should exercise a great deal of caution. There are protections that we want to keep.