After section 3

Part of Sexual Offences (Procedure and Evidence) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:30 pm on 6th March 2002.

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Photo of Richard Simpson Richard Simpson Labour 3:30 pm, 6th March 2002

We have had a useful debate on this subject, but, like other members, I am slightly concerned. The committee process is vital in a unicameral legislature and issues of this magnitude should be addressed at stage 2, which allows for the appropriate amount of consideration. I will return later to some of the arguments that Roseanna Cunningham put forward, which I found interesting.

Amendment 10 would give the accused in rape cases a presumptive right to anonymity and amendment 17 would adjust the long title accordingly. In our view, it would not be right to grant anonymity to the accused in those cases, because the reasons that underpin the anonymity of complainers do not apply to the accused.

Complainers are allowed to remain anonymous because of the humiliating nature of the evidence that they have to give. A victim of a sexual attack has to be taken through the detail of what was done so that the Crown can establish that the crime was committed in the manner libelled. There is also the prospect of evidence about the victim's sexual history being led. We hope that the bill will make that less common, although it will still happen in some cases. If victims have to face the prospect that the nature of what happened to them and the detail of their private lives could become public knowledge, sexual offences would become even more under-reported than they are today.

The accused is not in the same position as the complainer and can choose whether to give evidence. His consensual private life is generally regarded as irrelevant. If the accused were given anonymity in rape cases, it could be difficult to resist granting anonymity to those who have been charged with other offences that the public regard as serious. Our system of open justice could be undermined.

More important, amendment 10 would create some anomalies. For example, it is not clear why anonymity should be given to those who are accused of rape but not to those who are accused of the sexual abuse of children. At present, complainers have no automatic right to anonymity. My understanding is that anonymity is granted to accused in cases of abuse only in circumstances in which naming the accused would reveal the child's name. Anonymity is allowed only for the protection of the child.

Roseanna Cunningham made a similar point. If naming the accused were automatically to lead to the revelation of the name of the victim, there might be a need for anonymity of the accused. It is regrettable that we were unable to have that interesting debate at stage 2 because the amendments were not lodged for debate at that stage. The amendments would give the accused a clearer right to anonymity than the complainer.

I draw members' attention to the list of offences under proposed new section 288C(2) of the 1995 act. Why has rape been singled out as opposed to sodomy or clandestine injury to women? Singling out rape does not create the balance that Bill Aitken referred to.

On all those grounds, I ask members to reject the amendments.