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Crime: Rape

Volume 688: debated on Tuesday 9 January 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will name the accuser in the Leslie Warren rape case and false accusers where cases of persons convicted of rape have been referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission to the Court of Appeal as unsafe due to false allegations.

My Lords, no. Unless and until Parliament has decided to amend the law, it is not for Her Majesty’s Government or anyone else to name complainants in rape cases and, by so doing, remove the anonymity that Parliament has chosen to confer. As we have made clear, the Government are considering whether the law on complainant anonymity requires amendment in the light of the Court of Appeal judgment in the Blackwell case.

My Lords, I detect a slight shift in that Answer. I thank my noble and learned friend, but who or what is to stop the false accuser in the case of Leslie Warren—who has now been released from prison—from making more false allegations against more innocent men? The police will have destroyed her DNA; they had no right to retain it because she was not prosecuted. The courts have given her lifetime anonymity under the law. The press will be prosecuted if they name her unless a Member of Parliament is prepared to raise it in the Chamber, which I am not prepared to do in this particular case. Is she to be left to carry on making further allegations in conditions that men can do little about until they get to court?

My Lords, in the event that any further allegation was brought by this particular complainant, it would, as far as is possible, be the responsibility of the prosecution to disclose to any defendant what had happened before. Indeed, that was the basis of the Court of Appeal’s decision that certain disclosures had not been made relating to previous allegations. That is the protection that others will have.

My Lords, if there is to be disclosure, as the noble and learned Lord suggested, will there be a central register of complainants so that if this woman changes her name and makes an allegation somewhere else, as happened in this case—or if she keeps the same name and makes an allegation somewhere else—she can be traced? The CPS could take that into account in deciding whether to prosecute and disclose it to the offence.

My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, it is primarily the responsibility of the police when investigating allegations to consider whether there is relevant material. In another case that has been discussed in this House, the police decided to keep details of a particular person at each police station. Of course it is possible for people to be deceptive about who they are and their name in order to prevent all sorts of information about them being made known. That is why I said “as far as is possible” this disclosure will have to be made. In the case that went to the Court of Appeal, however, it was discovered that there had been other allegations and the Court of Appeal was able to act.

My Lords, would it help to resolve the issue if we were to revert to the position under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976—which I had the great privilege of sponsoring and getting on to the statute book—by which there was anonymity for a male defendant unless and until convicted?

My Lords, that is a different point. That is a question not of whether somebody may be falsely accused by someone who has made allegations before but of the tit-for-tat argument. That has been debated many times and has been the subject of independent review. The decision was ultimately taken that whether a defendant has anonymity is quite different from whether women—particularly those who would be deterred from bringing forward proper complaints because of the fear of disclosure of their identity—should have anonymity.

My Lords, I thank my noble and learned friend for giving such a positive response—that the anonymity of those who make a complaint about rape will be maintained. Does he agree that any hint of a change in the law could have serious implications for the victims of rape? It would perhaps make victims even more reluctant than they are now to come forward with a charge. Are any measures being taken to get a conviction rate that is better than the current very low one—less than 6 per cent of those charged are convicted? That would help women who have been raped to come forward with a charge. Otherwise, the present situation will continue and most rapists will get away with it, making many more women more reluctant to come forward.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend that, as has been said in many quarters, anonymity is an important part of dealing with the reluctance to bring these complaints forward. As I indicated, we are considering—my noble friend Lady Scotland considered—whether there is a need to change the law in the light of the Blackwell judgment. That is probably because of the difference between the Court of Appeal’s powers and the High Court’s powers. As regards the conviction rate generally on rape, the Government hope to respond shortly following responses to the consultation paper on a number of changes on which we invited comments.

My Lords, my noble and learned friend told us that we should rely on disclosure by prosecutors so that the defence knows the full case and the background. But he knows—this has come through in parliamentary replies from the Home Office—that in the Warren Blackwell case the CPS failed to disclose all the information that it had and which should have been brought before the courts. Why cannot we have an early decision on whether the law can be changed in this area? My noble and learned friend has referred twice to the possibility of a change in law. Can we have a very early decision so that I do not have to table more Questions on this area and can move on to another area of rape law?

My Lords, what an effective threat. My noble friend Lady Scotland and I have said that we are considering this matter. I am prepared to say that we are actively considering this matter. Subject to other ministerial colleagues, I hope that we shall reach a decision soon. On the first point, the Blackwell case turned not so much on any non-disclosure, although I accept that there was non-disclosure, but on new evidence which had come to light which the prosecution did not have.