U-turn on rape charge anonymity?

U-turn on rape charge anonymity?

One of the more surprising pledges in the Coalition programme for government was to extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants. Such a move would turn the clock back to 1976, when the Sexual Offences Act introduced anonymity for those accused of rape. That provision was repealed in 1988. Shortly after the Coalition pledge, which provoked a storm of adverse publicity, deputy prime minister Nick Clegg signalled a willingness to drop the government’s plans when he told Parliament: “I want to make it clear that, although the Government have proposed the idea, we want to listen to everybody who has a stake or expertise in or insight into the matter. If our idea does not withstand sincere scrutiny, we will of course be prepared to change it.”

Now it would seem that the government has abandoned these plans. When asked in the Commons last week if he will conduct a public consultation on whether to grant anonymity to defendants in rape cases, justice minister Crispin Blunt said: “The Government are minded to strengthen anonymity before charge. We want to hear the views of those who may have any new evidence to assist our deliberations, and we will bring our conclusions to Parliament in the autumn.” However, he went on to say: “Since the principal points of judgment around the issue are clear and very narrow…the Government do not propose to manage a full, formal public consultation.” Crucially he added: “We want in the first instance to try to find a non-statutory solution, and given that we had 21 Criminal Justice Acts passed over the 13 years of the last Administration, I am sure that Labour Members will understand why we are loath to find even more statutes to put on the statute book.”

Instead the government will negotiate with the Press Complaints Commission to persuade newspapers and websites to grant anonymity to suspects. “It was agreed on both sides of the House when the Sexual Offences Act 2003 went through Parliament that all people charged with offences ought to have their identity protected until the point of charge. That is the guidance that the Press Complaints Commission put into effect in 2004.” He added that there is an issue around the strength of that guidance which required attention. According to the ‘Guardian’, Government sources said the minister had not performed a U-turn because ministers had not committed themselves to changing the law. Ministers are still committed to granting anonymity to suspects between arrest and charge and believe that a change in the PCC code is the best way of achieving this.

This post was written by:

- who has written 462 posts on Upper Case – The Anya Legal Journal.

Mike Gribbin is a retired Civil Servant with wide experience, including the drafting and implementation of Parliamentary legislation and regulations. He is the editor of “Criminal Offences Handbook”, a uniquely comprehensive guide to more than one thousand ways to fall foul of UK criminal law. He is Editor of the Upper Case Legal Journal and has been writing blog posts for the past eight years.

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