Friday, 18 June 2010

'No, no!' said the Minister. 'Policy first--evidence afterwards.'

"'Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. 'The idea of having the policy first!'"

A couple of recent written questions on the coalition's policy for rape defendant anonymity.

[trigger warning]

Helen Jones MP (Labour, Warrington North) asks a couple of questions. Firstly:

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice what meetings he has had with (a) members of the judiciary and (b) organisations representing victims of crime on proposals to grant anonymity to defendants in rape cases.

Kenneth Clarke MP responds:

I have as yet had no such meetings.


To ask the Secretary of State for Justice if he will place in the Library a copy of each piece of written evidence he considered before deciding to bring forward proposals to extend anonymity to defendants in rape trials.

Crispin Blunt MP responds:

The Director of Analytical Services in the Ministry of Justice has been asked to compile all the available research and statistics relating to this issue into an independent report and publish this before summer recess.

I think it can be taken from this dodging of the question that the evidence considered is already in the Library, all none of it.

It doesn't surprise me that this policy is rather lacking in evidence, consultation, and so on - that much has been obvious from the start. Nevertheless, well done to Helen Jones MP for getting the government to admit it. There is much talk in Parliament about "evidence-led policy". This is slightly different: it's "anecdote-led policy".

It's not too hard to find examples of cases in the press where someone was falsely accused and suffered because of it, and is now talking in the press about their experience. I've seen a couple of cases mentioned by supporters of anonymity on the internet - this one and this one. Of course, they both fail the "would anonymity have helped" test, as none of those reported as being falsely accused in those articles were mentioned in the press at all before then.

(If you have a different one that you want checking, and don't have access to Lexis Nexis yourself, drop me a note in comments)

So because of these anecdotes and popular myths about the levels of false allegations (and the assumption that every false allegation involves a suspect, when in fact that's relatively rare), there's a belief that this policy would be far more useful than it actually is. Actual consideration of the evidence - or even some basic back-of-envelope estimation - was self-evidently not part of this policy.

Elsewhere, gorilerof3b has put up a letter to her MP, and I think the Parliamentary timeline is now up-to-date with all this week's events.