New Clause 4 — Anonymity Of Suspects And Defendants In Certain Cases (No.2)

Part of Sexual Offences Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 3rd November 2003.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 5:15 pm, 3rd November 2003

The hon. and learned Lady makes an extremely good point. It would probably be a good thing if the Under-Secretary indicated that the Government were minded to propose legislation across all offences. There is a clear argument that those accused of serious offences other than sex offences ought perhaps to enjoy the same protection; I emphasise that this is not about protecting the defendant, but about protecting the administration of justice. If this process continues, there will come a time when the principles under which justice has been administered in this country will become difficult to maintain because of the amount of prejudicial material circulated pre-trial. That causes me real anxiety. The hon. and learned Lady is right and her suggestion would be a way of approaching the matter.

However, this is a sexual offences bill, and it provides us with an opportunity—one that I fear we will not get again for a considerable period—to consider this particular issue. I am also bound to say, and the hon. and learned Lady may agree, that in reality this type of problem seems to arise particularly in relation to allegations of sexual misconduct—not solely, but the examples that we have seen in the last decade centre upon it. That is partly because allegations of sexual misconduct and impropriety justifiably excite a great deal of public opprobrium, as well as a degree of public prurience and interest. We cannot argue that we should abandon the scrutiny of sex offences just because we ought to be considering the matter in its totality.

I am a believer in incremental legislation. If the House sends a signal over this matter, the Government may well start to heed that signal in the wider context. It will be unfortunate if that does not happen. My fear is that we will simply carry on as we have done, but with a deteriorating situation—partly because of the sheer number of opportunities that exist to disseminate widely information that may turn out be prejudicial to a subsequent trial.