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 Douglas Hogg Douglas Hogg Conservative, Sleaford and North Hykeham 5:30 pm, 3rd November 2003

I shall be brief. I approach the matter with considerable caution for four reasons. First, I am reluctant to make a distinction between sexual and non-sexual offences. I recognise, of course, that the House has previously made that distinction, but I am very cautious indeed about it. In my view, the distinction is not well made.

Secondly, as argued earlier, it is frequently the case that the police know who they want to interview and the only way in which they are likely to get that individual is by providing a description in the press that is sufficient to identify him. Of course, the proposal of my hon. Friend Mr. Grieve stands in the way of that.

Thirdly, a further and related problem applies particularly to sexual offences alleged to have been committed some time previously. Quite often other complainants come forward to allege that the person against whom the allegations were made committed the same offence against them perhaps 10 or 15 years previously. If the course of action identified by my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield carries the House, that particular problem will become substantial and I should not have thought that the House would want it to be a consequence of the legislation.

Fourthly—and I touched on a further point in an earlier intervention—from time to time, perhaps not very frequently, a person against whom an allegation has been made will want to gain publicity in order to assert that he or she is not the person in respect of whom certain rumours are current. I do not read football publicity very much, but I have a feeling that a footballer did just that about three weeks ago. He sought out publicity to say that he was not the footballer in respect of whom allegations had been made.

I also want to make the point that I am rather cautious about anonymity post-charge and during a trial—a point that has been ventilated in the debate. I know of a recent case in the east midlands where a witness came forward during a murder trial to assert that he had seen somebody else at a particular place at the critical moment. That evidence was, in the end, discredited, but it is not wholly unusual for witnesses to come forward as a result of evidence given in a publicised case where the defendant has been identified.