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Monday, 13 August, 2001, 10:00 GMT 11:00 UK
Peer seeks rape law change
Christine and Neil Hamilton
Christine and Neil Hamilton face allegations of rape
A Labour peer is calling for the reintroduction of legislation granting anonymity to people accused of rape unless they are found guilty of the offence.

Lord Corbett was a home affairs spokesman responsible for overseeing legislation in 1976 that made it an offence to name either the rape victim or the alleged perpetrator of the crime.

But the clause guarding the anonymity of those accused of rape was overturned by the Conservative government in the mid-1980s.

Downing Street says there are no plans to give anonymity to those accused of committing rape.

On Monday, however, Lord Corbett told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the law should be changed.


I really do not think justice depends on allowing newspapers to crawl all over the evidence before it goes to a jury

Lord Corbett
Responding to the rape allegations made against Neil and Christine Hamilton, Lord Corbett argued that the current system did not offer "justice".

"There had been some evidence that the way in which the newspapers have been dealing with these allegations - and we have seen this over the weekend again - was deterring some women from going to the police and making allegations of rape," he said of the move to introduce the legislation in 1976.

"Having made that decision I was persuaded that we ought to have matching protection for the defendant man - you could not treat them differently," Lord Corbett said.

"In most cases of rape it is the word of one woman against one man and both ways round, whatever the outcome of any trial, the strong feeling of parliament was that acquittal was not enough to protect the reputation of either the complainant woman or the defendant man."

Lord Corbett told the BBC: "Look what the newspapers have been up to at the weekend, with the woman, properly in my view, having anonymity and the Hamiltons having the lurid details of the allegations against them splashed all over the papers.

"This has got nothing to do with justice."


Sometimes in a rape case the only way that an allegation is proved is that once a name is published other women come forward

Shadow Home Secretary Anne Widdecombe

"I really do not think justice depends on allowing newspapers to crawl all over the evidence before it goes to a jury."

Lord Harris of High Cross, a long-standing friend and supporter of the Hamiltons, also told Today: "This episode shows the appalling consequences of naming and shaming without any scintilla of evidence."

Shadow home secretary Anne Widdecombe told the programme she shared Lord Harris's concerns.

But she added: "I have to balance against that the consideration that sometimes in a rape case the only way that an allegation is proved is that once a name is published other women come forward."

Human rights lawyer Barbara Hewson also told Today: "Anonymity was introduced because it was in the public interest to encourage the reporting of serious offences.

"If the police were after someone who they suspected of being a serial attacker and they could not name him when he was being prosecuted it actually had a negative effect.


It is completely illogical to say that when you have never even been charged with an offence, never been prosecuted and never been convicted that your reputation is somehow damaged

Barbara Hewson
lawyer

"People who may well have been victims of this assailant would not know that he had been charged with an offence and could not come forward to help the police with their own experiences.

"It is not in the public interest however that prosecutions should take place of anonymous people."

Ms Hewson added: "A lot of the fuss that is made by people who are named and sometimes not even charged or formerly accused in the context of sex crimes is overdone.

"It is completely illogical to say that when you have never even been charged with an offence, never been prosecuted and never been convicted that your reputation is somehow damaged.

"That is complete and utter nonsense."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Lord Harris of High Cross
"I think it is amazing that they have not snapped"
Lord Corbett
"There is fairness involved in this"
Shadow Home Secretary, Anne Widdecombe
"It is something that has concerned me for some time"
See also:

12 Aug 01 | UK
Hamiltons 'may sue police'
30 May 01 | Scotland
Wallace rejects rape law change
26 Sep 00 | Scotland
Minister to hear rape plea
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