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 5:45 pm on 3rd November 2003.

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Photo of Vera Baird Vera Baird Labour, Redcar 5:45 pm, 3rd November 2003

This issue was discussed extensively in Committee and few new matters have been raised, so I shall direct my attention to the point made by Mr. Grieve that the category of sexual offences is as good a place as any to start. In fact, it is a bad place to start. As a lawyer, he will know that one cannot separate sexual offences from their history.

How we attempt to solve this problem is not only of academic interest, because it is not so long ago that we had anonymity for defendants in sexual offence cases only. It lasted for only a short time and was introduced in the teeth of the Heilbron recommendations. It was widely seen as a slight on complainants in sexual offence cases, because it seemed to suggest that they could be so little relied on that the defendant was expected to be acquitted and was therefore given extra protection that no other offence merited. At that time in our history, it was not even an offence for a man to rape his wife, and women rape complainants were considered so unreliable that they had to be corroborated or else there could be no conviction. That history has resonance for women today and we must not revisit it by adopting the hon. Gentleman's proposals.

The issue is not only one of history. The current conviction rate in rape trials is some 5.7 per cent., which is hopeless, especially given that it is generally thought that only 10 per cent. of those who are raped complain formally. The conviction rate for the bulk of offending is very low. The police, the Crown Prosecution Service and even judges, to some extent, have done a good deal to try to rectify that. They have tried to give complainants confidence that they will be supported, that every piece of evidence that can be looked for will be looked for, and that there is a real chance of obtaining a conviction when complainants go to court with a true allegation. To what extent will all that effort be undermined if we announce from this Chamber that Parliament thinks that rape complainants are unlikely to get convictions and that defendants should therefore be given a very special protection?