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Defendant Anonymity (Rape Cases)

Volume 514: debated on Tuesday 20 July 2010

As I told the House in the full-day debate of 8 July, the Government are minded to strengthen anonymity before charge. We want to hear the views of those who may have any new evidence to assist our deliberations, and we will bring our conclusions to Parliament in the autumn. However, since the principal points of judgment around the issue are clear and very narrow—not least in the light of our excellent debate 12 days ago—the Government do not propose to manage a full, formal public consultation.

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his answer. Has he considered the fact that, under his current proposals for anonymity up until charge, somebody arrested on suspicion of rape but then charged with sexual assault would enjoy anonymity, whereas somebody arrested on suspicion of sexual assault but then charged with rape would not enjoy anonymity under the coalition’s proposals?

We are now dealing with quite a narrow point because it was agreed in 2003—[Interruption.] It is quite a narrow point; it was agreed on both sides of the House when the Sexual Offences Act 2003 went through Parliament that all people charged with offences ought to have their identity protected until the point of charge. That is the guidance that the Press Complaints Commission put into effect in 2004. There is an issue around the strength of that guidance and, as I said in the debate 12 days ago, we are not satisfied that it is strong enough. We want in the first instance to try to find a non-statutory solution, and given that we had 21 Criminal Justice Acts passed over the 13 years of the last Administration, I am sure that Labour Members will understand why we are loth to find even more statutes to put on the statute book.

Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Meg Munn) is one reason why this idea—it was tried before between 1976 and 1988—was abolished by a previous Conservative Government? It did not work. Given that this idea was in neither the hon. Gentleman’s manifesto nor that of the Liberal Democrats, what possible reason can he have for failing to provide a proper consultation before changing the law in the ridiculous way he proposes to do?

First, when it was ended in 1988, it was not because it did not work. The hon. Lady should have paid rather more attention to the points put forward by the noble Lord Ackner in the 2003 debates when he spoke to his amendments on this subject. She should also note that the nature of rape changed, by definition, in the Sexual Offences Act 2003. All that means that the situation has changed since 1988.