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 5:30 pm on 3rd November 2003.

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Photo of Dominic Grieve Dominic Grieve Conservative, Beaconsfield 5:30 pm, 3rd November 2003

The hon. and learned Lady raised that point powerfully in Committee, when she said, as I recollect, that she was concerned about the prospect of anonymity being granted to a defendant throughout the trial process because the underlying implication appeared to be that because the allegation was of a sexual nature, it was more likely to be disbelieved.

That point had more force in relation to the trial process, but I do not consider that it has force in relation to the investigatory process. As I have said, I am sympathetic to the idea of legislating, if necessary, to cover all criminal offences, which would get rid of the problem that the hon. and learned Lady has identified. In the meantime, however, the level of publicity that we have seen in the press means that there is no doubt that that particular problem has crystallised around sexual offences.

Applying pragmatic principles, therefore, it seems to me that we should address that matter in this Bill. Of course, I have no way of knowing what will happen when the Bill goes back to those in another place, but they originally amended the Bill to extend anonymity throughout the trial process, and if we do not address the issue before charge, they may choose to do so again.

Considering carefully what has taken place, and applying the general principle that this House should consider carefully what the other place does and come back with its own opinion, it seems to me that the greatest force in what was done there applied to the pre-trial period. The Minister has said several times that he accepts that there is a problem with the pre-charge period, and I think that this House can do something about that.

I accepted at the outset that, for technical reasons, it will not be possible to do that by using the very words of my new clause—but there is a principle here. I think that it is possible to take on board the point made by my right hon. and learned Friend Mr. Hogg about his anxieties concerning any change, and to perfect the new clause so as to ensure that it still allows for publicity when required, and that the change will not be detrimental to the defendant if he legitimately requires publicity—for instance, to provide himself with an alibi—yet at the same time to send out the message that a practice that is becoming all too common in this country is simply unacceptable.