Page last updated at 17:17 GMT, Thursday, 20 May 2010 18:17 UK

Rape defendants to be granted anonymity

Scales of justice
Anonymity plans for rape defendants have prompted complaints

People accused of rape in England and Wales are to be granted anonymity under proposals announced by the coalition government.

The proposal was not in the Liberal Democrat or Conservative manifesto, but has been a Lib-Dem policy.

But the plan angered anti-rape campaigners who said it would do nothing to improve the conviction rate.

At present, there are no restrictions on naming defendants who are over 18 years old.

The government's proposal for anonymity would only affect England and Wales. There is no anonymity for rape defendants in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The document setting out the programme for government says that ministers will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants, but does not elaborate how this would work in practice.

The Ministry of Justice would not be drawn on how the proposal would be applied, other than to say: "This is a sensitive area and careful analysis of the options and implications will be undertaken."

'Insult'

But Ruth Hall, of Women Against Rape, said the government's decision to grant anonymity to suspects was an "insult".

"More attention needs to be paid to the 94% of reported cases that do not end in conviction rather than the few that are false," she said.

A LASTING EFFECT?
You've still got your name connected to it. Just to have it connected to something like that is bad, terrible, nightmarish. It doesn't matter what the outcome was.

"If men accused of rape got special rights to anonymity, it would reinforce the misconception that lots of women who report rape are lying."

Official statistics show that while only 6% of all reports of rape to the police lead to a conviction, more than half of the cases that make it to trial result in the suspect being found guilty.

Despite not appearing in the Liberal Democrat manifesto, the anonymity proposal became party policy at its 2006 conference after a number of cases in which celebrities were named in newspapers in allegations of sexual assault.

The policy resolution stated that defendants should remain anonymous in rape cases unless and until they are convicted.

Supporters of the measure said that it removed the taint of "no smoke without fire" that cleared defendants say they suffer.

But the proposal divided the party with some activitists saying it could lower conviction rates, as it could mean fewer witnesses or other victims coming forward.

Some legal experts have argued that anonymity could only be justified if society concluded that the crime was far worse than every other offence, including murder, and that there was proof of a high rate of false allegations.

But a major independent review of rape earlier this year warned there needed to be a proper examination of the wider issues.

The 1976 Labour government introduced anonymity for defendants - only for the measure to be repealed 12 years later under the Conservatives.

During this time, judges could refuse to grant anonymity where naming the defendant would make it more likely for other victims to come forward.

In 2001, the then director of public prosecutions said there was a case for reintroducing limited anonymity.

During this period, there has been a series of stories in national newspapers where celebrities suspected of rape were named, even though in some cases they were not charged or the complainant was malicious.



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