Thursday, 3 June 2010

Anonymity for defendants, continued

More on the defendant anonymity issue.

[trigger warning]

There's a briefing paper produced by Parliamentary researchers that nicely sums up the situation up until now with regards to anonymity. It's well worth reading.

Cath at Too Much To Say For Myself, along with news that Cameron may be backing off the idea slightly, gives a link to this piece by Vera Baird (former solicitor general).

I've updated the countering bad arguments post with a few more arguments.

The campaigning that has been done so far appears to be having an effect and the proposal has been raised in Parliament a few times so far:

Rosie Winterton MP (Labour, Doncaster Central), raised the issue in the debate on the Business of the House on the 27th May. The coalition reply from George Young MP (Conservative, North West Hampshire) was:

That is why we have said that we will undertake a careful and sensitive analysis of the options and implications before we bring any proposals to Parliament.

...which is not at all what appeared in the Programme for Government. They do appear to be backing down a bit under the pressure, which is good.

Kerry McCarthy MP (Labour, Bristol East) continues to ask questions in the same debate, as does Fiona Mactaggart MP (Labour, Slough), who proposed the Early Day Motion mentioned earlier.

Note, again, it's only women who seem to consider the issue important enough to raise, though it's not impossible that some male MPs who would have mentioned it were not called upon to speak in the debate.

On 2 June, Harriet Harman MP (Labour, Camberwell & Peckham), as acting leader of the Opposition, used one of her allocated questions to the Prime Minister to ask about this issue. This part of his response is interesting:

We came to the conclusion that there was a case for saying that between arrest and charge there was a case for anonymity.


We all want the same thing, which is to increase the number of successful rape prosecutions and to send more rapists to jail: that is what this is about.

Both of those are useful quotes - the first, because it is a definite backing off from the Programme for Government quote referring to "defendants" (who are by definition charged) - the second, because it provides a very useful point to criticise the proposals: the reason defendants do not have anonymity is because it did the opposite.

So, good work from several Labour women there. I do wonder if any of the previous or likely future male Labour leaders would have given the issue such a high priority. Only Diane Abbott, of the potential leadership candidates, has signed the Early Day Motion, and it's looking somewhat unlikely at the moment that she'll even get enough nominations to be on the ballot paper.

Sunder Katwala at Next Left points out that in the vast majority of cases, pre-charge suspects usually have anonymity anyway (and that in the cases where they don't, there's usually a very good reason)

There's now an adjournment debate1 scheduled for 7 June on the subject, too.

1 Parliament, ostensibly debating whether or not to adjourn debate until the following day, actually chats about something else entirely for a little while, and then votes to adjourn. It's nice that there are mechanisms for topical issues to be discussed in Parliament, but a less evolutionary approach to things might have given a more legislative body whose proceedings are more comprehensible to outsiders.