Defendant Anonymity

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:24 pm on 8th July 2010.

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Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour, Swansea West 4:24 pm, 8th July 2010

At the nub of this debate is the question of whether the police should be allowed the discretion to release the identity of people who they believe are serial rapists, with a view to getting more victims and more witnesses to come forward and provide more evidence to facilitate prosecution. That point was touched on in an excellent speech by Dr Wollaston, who obviously has a great deal of experience in this area. We have heard good debating points, but we really need to get to the nub of the issue, because I fear that if the anonymity proposal for rape defendants goes through we will end up tying the hands of the police.

We are not talking about allowing all the names of all the people ever accused of rape to go out to the media before charge. Rather, we are talking about whether in certain instances, where people are known to be serial offenders but have not been successfully prosecuted, the police should be allowed-given the statistical background we have discussed-to facilitate the process of getting more people to come forward. I believe that if the anonymity proposal is pushed through, we will simply end up with more rape-particularly by serial rapists-less reporting and fewer convictions.

In my area of Swansea West, as elsewhere, there is serious and widespread concern about this issue. I know that some Members have said that it is not political, but I have encountered people saying, "Look, I voted Liberal Democrat, and I did not vote for hiding the identity of prospective rapists and increasing the number of rape victims. I did not vote for that." This policy emerged, of course, from a Liberal Democrat conference resolution in 2006. To be fair to the Conservatives, in 1988 the veil was pulled and hidden identity was thrown away under pressure from the police, who said that anonymity was preventing women from reporting. That remains the case, so I hope that the Conservatives will go back to their previous position. I realise that some sort of deal has been done on VAT and everything else, but let us not allow it to get in the way of the rights of women and their protection. Disclosure generates confidence-confidence to stand up and be counted against serial offenders.

Most crime generally is serial crime. We all know that the vast majority of crime is perpetrated by just a few people-and that is certainly the case with rape. Like other Members who have spoken, I have had the great pleasure of witnessing a presentation by the chief constable of Cheshire, Dave Whatton, who showed evidentially the relationship between disclosure, witnesses coming forward and subsequent convictions. The reality is that a person comes up for a rape trial, often on their own, but with disclosure, others might come forward. As I mentioned in an earlier intervention, in some cases, evidence from the first victim might not be sufficient for conviction, but it might be with the collaborative evidence of others. Without that additional evidence, the case is likely to fall and more serial rape is likely to be the result.

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