Friday, 11 June 2010

Rape defendant anonymity: Parliamentary timeline

Our MPs are not letting the proposals to give defendants in rape trials anonymity get anywhere without resistance, and are exposing the coalition's representatives' lack of knowledge of the issue at numerous opportunities.

This post is - as far as I can manage, and please let me know if I've missed anything - a complete Parliamentary/Government timeline. Like the earlier countering bad arguments post, I'll be updating this as things happen, the evening after the day of the debate if I can keep up with it. (Last update: 12 November 2010)

[trigger warning]

In previous governments

This Briefing Paper produced by Parliamentary researchers to inform MPs summarises the history well. Anonymity for the defendant was introduced in 1976 (at the same time as anonymity for the victim), and then abolished in 1988.

The last time this was voted on in the Commons it was an entirely party-line vote, with Conservatives and Lib Dems voting for, and Labour voting against. A few minor party MPs voted for it as well.

May 20, 2010

The coalition releases its Programme for Government. It doesn't take long for people to notice in the Justice section that it contains "We will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants.", and criticism from feminist and victim support groups is very quick to appear. There is also criticism from several lawyers, and from the police.

The proposal is from an obscure Liberal Democrat policy dating back to 2006, that was not in that party's manifesto.

One of the coalition negotiators must have suggested it.

  • Danny Alexander MP (Lib Dem, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch & Strathspey)
  • William Hague MP (Conservative, Richmond)
  • Chris Huhne MP (Lib Dem, Eastleigh)
  • David Laws MP (Lib Dem, Yeovil)
  • Oliver Letwin MP (Conservative, West Dorset)
  • Ed Llewellyn (Conservative party advisor)
  • George Osborne MP (Conservative, Tatton)
  • Andrew Stunnell MP (Lib Dem, Hazel Grove)

May 25, 2010

A petition to Kenneth Clarke QC MP (Conservative, Rushcliffe) Secretary of State for Justice, urging that the proposal be dropped, is started.

The debate on the Queen's Speech begins in the House of Lords. Baroness Royall of Blaisdon (Labour) mentions and condemns the proposals, in a couple of sentences that sum up the problems and lack of perspective of a heavily male-dominated government:

Then there is the constitutional programme claimed by the Deputy Prime Minister to be the greatest piece of democratic reform since the great Reform Act of 1832. Over half of the population of this country who secured the franchise in the period since then-women, they are called-might take a different view, but after a pretty much all-male election and with the coalition Government being run pretty much as a boys' club, women in this country might just prefer to differ, just as they might prefer to differ over the recent announcements in respect of rape and anonymity, which is a truly retrograde step for abused women.

Meanwhile, in the Commons, acting Labour Leader Harriet Harman MP (Camberwell & Peckham) opens the opposition speeches, including this paragraph:

We ask the Government to reconsider their plans to change the rules for prosecuting rape and their proposal for anonymity for rape defendants. It is often only after many rapes that a defendant is finally brought before the court, and it is often only when previous victims see the name and details of the defendant that they find the courage to come forward. Police and prosecutors say that that is essential in helping get a conviction. To make only rape defendants anonymous sends a message to the jury that, uniquely, a rape victim is not to be believed, and it sends a message to the woman who has been raped that, "We don't believe you." We have made progress on bringing rapists to justice; I urge the Government not to turn the clock back.

May 26, 2010

Fiona Mactaggart MP (Labour, Slough) proposes Early Day Motion 105 criticising the proposals and calling for their withdrawal.

Other Labour MPs sign up to it very quickly, especially female MPs, rapidly reaching 50 signatures. The only early non-Labour signature is Jonathan Edwards MP (Plaid Cymru, Carmarthen East & Dinefwr)

May 27, 2010

Rosie Winterton MP (Labour, Doncaster Central) as Shadow Leader of the House, Kerry McCarthy MP (Labour, Bristol East) and Fiona Mactaggart MP all raise the issue in the "Business of the House" debate (in the official context of "this is an important issue; could we have some time to discuss it in Parliament"). The debate transcript.

Here's the relevant bit of the reply from George Young MP (Conservative, North West Hampshire):

The right hon. Lady has raised a serious issue about rape and anonymity. I recognise the concern about this issue, and there should be no doubt in anyone's mind about this Government's determination to tackle rape and sexual offences and to ensure that those who commit such offences are convicted and properly sentenced. No quarter will be given to those convicted of rape. However, the House will also be aware that some people's lives have been wrecked by being falsely and maliciously accused of rape. 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. Of course, any proposals to change the law will have to go through this House and the other House.

Nothing particularly useful there, and the argument in favour is a vague statement about "some people" being harmed by "false and malicious" accusations.

June 2, 2010

Kerry McCarthy MP asks a couple of written questions to the Home Office, on the proportion of rapes unreported (89% of serious sexual assaults is the estimate) and on what evidence they have collected on the proportion of false accusations (none, but the Stern Review recommends that they should)

Harriet Harman MP, meanwhile, questions the Prime Minister. Parts of his reply were picked up on as possible evidence of backtracking.

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.

Of course, between arrest and charge there is already de facto anonymity for the overwhelming majority of defendants, as the police will not release the name unless there's a strong need (a public safety issue such as Derrick Bird, for instance). I wasn't able to find a single example of a non-celebrity rape suspect being named in the press at this stage.

June 7, 2010

The Commons debate is on Constitution and Home Affairs. Labour as the Opposition propose an amendment to the letter Parliament is sending to the Queen (the link explains why this makes sense as something to do) including opposition of the anonymity proposal.

The amendment predictably fails (it wasn't proposed with the purpose of passing), but gives several MPs opportunity to make speeches.

Lorely Burt (Lib Dem, Solihull) starts by asking how Deputy PM Nick Clegg (Lib Dem, Sheffield Hallam) intends to take the debate forwards. He answers:

The Deputy Leader of the House tells me that there is an Adjournment debate about the matter tonight. It is a difficult and sensitive issue, which my hon. Friend is right to raise. It has been raised many times and I read some articles in the press about it again this morning. Everybody is united in wanting the conviction rates for rape to increase. Everybody wants more support to be provided to victims of rape so that they come forward in the first place, while also wanting to minimise the stigma attached to those who might be falsely accused. However, 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.

Again, there's a lot in there to give an impression of backing off, and a lot of words intended - largely unsuccessfully, for me - to reassure that the government is doing this to help victims. For someone whose party came up with the idea, he's being very equivocal about it.

Bridget Philipson MP (Labour, Houghton and Sunderland South) opposes the proposals

I am particularly grateful to be called to make my maiden speech during the debate on home affairs. Prior to my election, I worked managing a women's refuge based in my constituency for families fleeing domestic violence. It is through my work with victims of sexual violence that I have such deep reservations about proposals to introduce anonymity for defendants in rape cases. I ask the Government to look carefully at prioritising measures that will increase the number of rape convictions instead of deterring vulnerable women from coming forward.

Stephen McCabe MP (Labour, Birmingham Selly Oak) and Alan Johnson MP (Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) also spoke in opposition in passing.

Later that night was the adjournment debate arranged by Caroline Flint MP (Labour, Don Valley). This is covered in more detail in another post and Crispin Blunt's arguments are dissected by gorilerof3b and Sian at UKFeminista.

Meg Munn MP (Labour, Sheffield Heeley), Cathy Jamieson MP (Labour, Kilmarnock & Loudoun), Fiona Mactaggart MP, and Kerry McCarthy MP all raise points against the proposal. Denis MacShane MP (Labour, Rotherham) contributes some heckling.

The response from the government is left entirely to Crispin Blunt MP (Conservative, Reigate), a minister in the Justice department. His arguments are basically that:

  • Rape defendants are significantly more likely to suffer damage to their reputation even if acquitted or not charged than suspects in other trials.
  • There is not sufficient evidence on the prevalence of serial offending.

He also states:

There is no implied view in our proposals of the prevalence or otherwise of false allegations in rape cases

...which isn't particularly believable in the context of what some of his colleagues have said before or since.

June 8, 2010

Kerry McCarthy MP follows up the debate by asking as a written question what the scope of the policy is. Crispin Blunt MP replies that they recognise that sexual offences other than rape might also be covered.

June 9, 2010

Another written question, from Andrew Stephenson MP (Conservative, Pendle), on what plans the government have. Crispin Blunt MP replies that they will bring some plans forward after considering the options.

Caroline Flint MP continues to keep the pressure on the government, asking David Cameron MP at Prime Minister's Questions. Cameron's reply is unsatisfactory - gorilerof3b points out his highly selective reading of Stern, and I cover the improbability of anonymity proposals actually preventing any defendant suicides. The possibility of an increase in victim suicides, if the justice system starts to fail them even more, isn't mentioned at all.

June 11, 2010

It's the Parliamentary Business debate again, and Rosie Winterton MP again calls for a proper Parliamentary debate on the issue, and criticises Crispin Blunt's responses at the adjournment debate.

I do not think the Leader of the House was in the Chamber to hear the Adjournment debate initiated by my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint, who spoke eloquently and effectively about the Conservative-Liberal Democrat proposals for defendant anonymity in rape cases. The response of the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, Mr Blunt, was frankly disappointing, and showed very little understanding of the message that he was sending to rape victims. He did say, however, that the Government wanted informed contributions, and would consider all the options before formulating the proposals.

Glenda Jackson MP (Labour, Hampstead & Kilburn) and Maria Eagle MP (Labour, Garston & Halewood) also ask for a fuller Parliamentary debate.

George Young MP doesn't promise any debates, but doesn't try to defend the proposal either.

Early Day Motion 105 is now up to 73 signatures, including Caroline Lucas MP (Green, Brighton Pavilion) and a single coalition MP - Mike Hancock (Lib Dem, Portsmouth South). Of the five candidates for the Labour leadership, only Diane Abbott MP (Hackney North & Stoke Newington) has signed it.

June 14, 2010

Kate Green MP (Labour, Stretford & Urmston) asks what proportion of rapes were committed by people known to the victim. Crispin Blunt doesn't know (though he says "not possible" when he means "not practical").

June 15, 2010

A busy day.

Three more written questions and answers, from Lisa Nandy MP (Labour, Wigan), Kate Green MP again (this time getting a useful answer on bail statistics - about 20% of defendants at Magistrates courts, and around 40% at Crown court, are granted bail between charge and verdict, and around 60% are granted bail between arrest and charge), and Sandra Osborne MP (Labour, Ayr, Carrick & Cumnock) asks the Home Department what they plan to do about conviction rates. The answer from James Brokenshire MP (Conservative, Old Bexley & Sidcup) is:

We need to increase the number of successful rape prosecutions and send more rapists to jail. The current conviction rate in cases of rape proceeded against in court stands at 38%.

As we have made clear, the victim in rape cases remains our priority and we welcome many of the improvements introduced by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service in recent years, intended to improve both victim care and the number of cases reaching court. These include specially trained officers and prosecutors, dedicated rape units within police force areas and investment in Sexual Assault Referral Centres for the improved collection of forensic evidence and provision of immediate crisis and medial care to victims.

It is important, however, that victims have access to longer term support and we have therefore committed to providing sustainable support for rape crisis centres.

Over the coming months, we shall work with partners to consider what more needs to be done to ensure that perpetrators of rape are brought to justice.

(The conviction rate above isn't the 58% quoted elsewhere, because the 58% includes those who plead guilty)

There was also the anticipated debate on oral questions to the Justice department. There were numerous questions asked on the anonymity proposal in this debate. The first set went quite well. The initial questions were asked by Caroline Flint MP, Meg Munn MP, and Bridget Philipson MP. Kenneth Clarke QC MP responded - his personal belief is that the defendant should have anonymity because the victim does. He also brings up that sometimes the defendant gets anonymity because identifying them would identify their victim. (Which I don't think anyone who supports victim anonymity is arguing for stopping)

Maria Eagle MP then asks

I listened with great care to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Secretary of State said about the mystery of where the policy came from, but can he enlighten the House as to why, over that weekend of negotiations between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservative party about the coalition agreement, the matter suddenly became a major priority when it had not been in either manifesto before? Will he also please tell us how many women were involved in those negotiations?

Kenneth Clarke MP responds:

I was not involved in the negotiations, but the policy actually emerged from them. I remind the hon. Lady that the Liberal Democrat assembly voted in favour of the policy in 2006, but it did so against a background of considerable debate. People from all parts of this House decided to vote for anonymity in 2003, and we recently had a report from Baroness Stern, who I do not think supports anonymity but recommended that the matter be debated more extensively.

The one thing that I can say to the hon. Lady is that the idea that the proposal was a male decision to the exclusion of female sensitivity on the subject is, frankly, slightly wide of the mark. Nobody in the House denies that rape is a serious offence; nobody in the House wants to reduce the protection that is given to women who are threatened with it or experience it.

As Georgia Kirke points out in a TheyWorkForYou annotation, Baroness Stern's report recommended an independent study be done, which is not the same as recommending a chat in the Commons.

"slightly wide of the mark" is a very mild dismissal of the idea that the proposal came about - in Kenneth Clarke's words - as "a male decision to the exclusion of female sensitivity". He doesn't say what it was instead.

There's then another set of questions from Kevin Brennan MP (Labour, Cardiff West), Katy Clark MP (Labour, North Ayrshire & Arran) and Emma Reynolds MP (Labour, Wolverhampton North East). Again, Clarke gives the usual answer about being prepared to consider all arguments and viewing rape as a serious crime, to which Kevin Brennan MP (who, incidentally, is the first male Labour MP to engage with the debate beyond a passing reference or heckling) says:

The point is that the Justice Secretary has come before the House and talked about the proposal as if he were suggesting perhaps a Green Paper or a national debate, but it is in his programme of government, and I notice that his Front-Bench team is a Liberal-free zone. Does he feel, and will he now admit to the House, that basically he has been sold a pup?

This is exactly right. Pretty much any time they've been questioned, the Conservative ministers (and Lib Dem leader and deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg MP) have been very non-committal, "got to consider all options", "plenty of time for debate", and so on. But the proposal is in as a manifesto-esque commitment in the programme for government.

The Minister dodges the questioning a bit, and a further question by Katy Clark MP gives this sentence in answer.

The conviction rate among those charged with rape is 38%, which is lower than that for some other offences, but rape is different in many ways from more straightforward crimes such as theft. In rape cases, we are essentially relying on the frame of mind of one of the parties; something that is perfectly lawful and affectionate if the woman is consenting is a very serious criminal offence if she is not.

It's an interesting statement that doesn't show what he thinks it does. Theft, of course, is another act which is only illegal in the absence of consent. I can take your possessions perfectly legally if you agree to let me do so. If you disagree, it's theft. The difference between theft and rape is not that one does not involve questions of consent, it's that in considering theft, people's culturally-trained expectations of what consent entails are not utterly broken.

Another question by Emma Reynolds MP, and then the first intervention by a non-Labour MP who isn't a Government Minister. Jonathan Evans MP (Conservative, Cardiff North) asks:

Does my right hon. and learned Friend agree that it is important that the appropriate counselling is available for victims coming forward? That counselling has recently been withdrawn in my constituency and that of Kevin Brennan. It is now provided by volunteers. Will my right hon. and learned Friend look at ensuring that appropriate funding is put in place for that service?

Kenneth Clarke MP responds (emphasis mine)

I certainly will. I have already referred to our commitment to try to provide new rape crisis centres, preferably using the proceeds of crime when they are recovered from criminal offenders. I strongly agree with my hon. Friend that we are long past the stage at which a woman complaining of rape is treated as if she were complaining about a handbag robbery. There is no doubt that all these cases have to be treated with considerable sensitivity because it is very difficult for a woman to bring herself to complain and not enough do so, even in the present climate of opinion.

So, yes, we have a pervasive and strong rape culture and a large number of police forces still failing to treat rape seriously (a handbag robbery at least is unlikely to result in the police saying "Well, maybe you gave it to them. It's just one person's word against another.") but he's surprised that the reporting rate is so low.

At this point the debate moves on, but later on, Luciana Berger MP (Labour, Liverpool Wavertree) asks about the low conviction rate and why rape defendants should be given more protection than defendants for other serious crimes. Kenneth Clarke MP keeps up the line about defendants being entitled to anonymity if the victim has anonymity.

A bit later, Siobhain McDonagh MP (Labour, Mitcham and Morden) notes that there have been references to Stern's recommendation on false allegations, and wonders what the government plans to do about the other twenty-two recommendations. Kenneth Clarke MP replies that the other recommendations are important and should be considered.

So, like a lot of people, he focuses on the trivial amount of false allegations and hardly considers the other more important points that Stern made that are preventing true allegations from being prosecuted effectively.

Finally, Barbara Keeley MP (Labour, Worsley & Eccles South) asks:

In a recent case, a Salford man had committed a rape and was bailed, but then committed a further rape, and the police believe that there are further victims of this man. Can the Secretary of State explain why the Government have committed in their coalition agreement to extending anonymity to such defendants before all the evidence is heard? Can he also say who will now be consulted for that evidence?

The reply is shocking (if not really surprising).

With great respect, I find it very surprising that so many questions are being raised about a proposition that has been before the House, on and off, for the past 20 years and is not easily resolved. We will, of course, look at all arguments, including the experience of the case to which the hon. Lady has referred, but that is only one of the considerations to be taken into account. There will undoubtedly sometimes be cases where the publication of the name of the accused person gives rise to other people coming forward with well-founded complaints against that person. We will have to see whether there is any evidence that such cases are a significant proportion of the total cases of rape. We shall also have to consider the arguments on the other side, where a woman can make an anonymous complaint, the man can eventually be convicted, after going through a long and probably rather destructive ordeal, and the woman retains her anonymity as she walks away, with her ex-boyfriend or ex-husband left to live with the consequences.

More analysis of that statement and the problems with it

The Justice debate got a BBC News article

June 16, 2010

In the Commons, written questions from Kerry McCarthy MP and Glenda Jackson MP asking what consultation took place and what evidence was considered before the announcement of the policy.

Kenneth Clarke MP dodges the question somewhat, saying:

The proposal to grant anonymity to defendants in rape trials was included within the coalition Agreement following negotiations between the two coalition partners. All of the policy commitments made by the coalition Government were derived from the existing policy of one or both of the governing parties. The issue of anonymity for defendants in rape trials was adopted as party policy by the Liberal Democrat Party while in opposition. It was also the subject of an extensive inquiry by the Home Affairs Select Committee, in its fifth report published on 24 June 2003.

Most of the day's activity, however, was in a House of Lords debate on the crime of rape generally, begun by a question from Baroness Scotland of Asthal (Labour) asking:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what proposals they have to change the way in which prosecutions are undertaken in rape cases.

The answers are all from Lord Wallace of Tankerness (Lib Dem). After initial questions by Baroness Scotland and Baroness Kingsmill (Labour), it is established that the government is looking at the Stern review recommendations, and wishes defendant anonymity to be debated. Again, the government attitude is of suggestions that deserve debating yet again, rather than the firm decision of the programme for government.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland (Crossbench) then asks:

My Lords, the Minister spoke of talking to experts. Does he accept that the greatest experts in this field are those who have been victims of rape? Will he ensure that their views are taken carefully into consideration and that he listens to the groups representing them?

Lord Wallace replies

I am certainly prepared to give that assurance. Those people have a very regrettable but very real experience. It is because of the importance that we attach to the way in which we as a society deal with victims that the coalition Government are committed to trying our best to increase the number of rape crisis centres and to put those which exist on a more stable financial footing.

Lord Campbell-Savours (Labour) then asks:

My Lords, evidence has shown that the two-tier offence arrangements that exist in New Zealand lead to far higher levels of successful prosecutions. Would the Government consider changing the law in the United Kingdom to mirror the arrangements in New Zealand?

Lord Wallace has no idea what the law on rape in New Zealand is, and neither did I. As far as I can tell from this paper on changes in NZ law (subscription required and badly OCRed), there are two separate types of offence.

The first is one in which the lack of consent involves force, threatened force, or misleading someone about one's identity or the nature of the sexual acts (it seems to be mirrored fairly closely by the circumstances in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 in which a belief in consent is assumed to be unreasonable)

The second is one in which the lack of consent is caused by "threats of criminal behaviour, blackmail, or abuses of power or authority arising from the occupational or vocational positions or the commercial relationship between the parties clause". In the original bill this had a lower maximum sentence, but both types were given a 14-year maximum sentence when the law was passed.

Certainly an addition of those types of coercion to the list in the Sexual Offences Act 2003 would be beneficial (although, as mentioned earlier, if we had a society with reasonable ideas of consent, it wouldn't be necessary)

I haven't been able to find anything more recent explaining the situation - if anyone more familiar with New Zealand law reads this, could you leave an explanation or a link to one in the comments, please?

The next question relevant to anonymity is from Lord Thomas of Gresford (Lib Dem) who asks:

My Lords, I also congratulate the noble and learned Lord on his appointment. Will he ensure that any changes to the criminal law are evidence-based and that no change in the anonymity rules is brought into effect until there is an opportunity to get statistics from police forces all round the country on whether the anonymity of the defendant would result in fewer women coming forward with their complaints?

As usual, the government response is that they like evidence and welcome it, but no specific commitment not to do anything without it. It is good to see the occasional coalition member express concern, though.

Next, Baroness Whitaker (Labour):

My Lords, will the noble and learned Lord explain exactly why those accused of rape should be entitled to greater protection than those accused of other serious crimes?

Lord Wallace answers:

That question is sometimes raised. As I indicated earlier, the issue has been debated for some considerable time. It is a realisation of the severity of the stigma that is attached to rape. It is a unique crime, inasmuch as the victim has anonymity. In terms of its apparent uniqueness, perhaps I may draw attention to the fact that in the coalition Government's programme for government we are also considering proposals that would give anonymity to teachers who are falsely accused by pupils. Where professional and personal reputation is at stake, we want to look at these issues with a proper degree of sensitivity.

I noted a while back the similarities between the treatment of rape allegations and allegations made against teachers. In both cases the scale of the false allegation problem may be significantly overstated based on studies with unsound methodology, the victims are often subject to a presumption that they are lying, and there are power differentials in place.

Finally, Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Labour) asks:

My Lords, given that the Minister told the House that securing more prosecutions in rape cases is a priority as regards this range of offences, in what way do he or the Government believe that securing the anonymity of defendants will assist in that?

It's an obvious question, since in the Commons especially government ministers have been repeating their insistence that this is the case. Lord Wallace may not have been briefed properly, however, so gives the honest answer (emphasis mine).

I am not sure that there is necessarily a direct link. There are many other approaches we want to consider whereby we can raise the conviction rate. It is also important to remember that the 6 per cent figure that is sometimes used represents the percentage of cases that are initially reported to the police. In fact, the figure, in terms of convictions in cases that are taken to court, including those convicted of lesser but nevertheless serious sexual offences, is approaching 59 per cent. There is always room for improvement. The report of the review of the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, made many recommendations for public authorities-the police, prosecution and judiciary-to improve their service. There are ways to raise the percentage of convictions, an objective shared by all parts of this House.

Not at all surprising, but it's good that one of the people defending the anonymity proposal has actually said outright that itself it will not help rape victims.

June 17, 2010

Several written questions today:

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.

So, no actual evidence yet, then.

Glenda Jackson MP asks:

To ask the Secretary of State for Justice which (a) organisations and (b) individuals have informed his Department that they are in favour of anonymity for rape defendants; and if he will make a statement.

Kenneth Clarke MP:

As of 15 June 2010, our records show that no organisation had informed the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) that it favoured this proposal and no organisation had informed the Ministry that it opposed the proposal. Three correspondents have written to the Department in support of the proposal. It would not be appropriate to release their names.

I note that he volunteered the low figure of organisations opposing the proposal, but made no mention of the number of individuals doing so. Significantly more than three, I expect.

There's also another question from Kate Green MP asking about the ages of victims. The information isn't held much, but Crispin Blunt MP provides what there is. The attrition at this stage is getting less severe, at least.

Finally, two similar questions from Luciana Berger MP and Caroline Flint MP, asking where the Department for Women and Equalities has been in all this.

Lynne Featherstone MP (Lib Dem, Hornsey & Wood Green) avoids the question ("hiding" would be unparliamentary language) and answers:

The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister have, with the whole House, made clear the desire to increase the number of successful rape prosecutions and send more rapists to jail, as well as provide the best possible support to victims of this appalling crime. The Government regard rape as a very serious crime which should be prosecuted in all cases where sufficient evidence exists.

We will bring proposals to Parliament when all the options have been carefully considered. Our consideration of the options will include an equality impact assessment.

That will be an interesting test of the usefulness of equality impact assessments, certainly.

That last question leads into the questioning in the Commons of the Women and Equalities department. A couple of questions were asked as part of a general debate on violence against women.

Caroline Flint MP asks:

Rape is an act of violence against both women and men, and for both women and men who are victims of rape, it is often their lack of confidence in coming forward that prevents people being brought to justice. What are the implications of the proposals to extend anonymity to defendants in rape trials on the confidence of male and female victims in coming forward?

Lynne Featherstone MP responds:

Obviously, the conviction rate in this country is not good enough and needs to be improved, and the last thing that we want is for fewer victims to come forward, but we have not yet seen compelling evidence that offering anonymity to defendants would reduce those reporting rates. The attitude that the victim is somehow responsible is prevalent in this country, and that is something that we will be looking at. I assure the right hon. Lady that we will be looking at all the options in terms of addressing this issue and debating it in the House.

Given that they appear, from the above written answers, to have seen no evidence yet, a statement that they've seen no compelling evidence in a particular area is probably not meaningful.

Next is Yvette Cooper MP (Labour, Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford), who asks:

[...] I wrote to the Home Secretary on 27 May, in her capacity as the Minister for Women and Equalities, about the Government's proposal to introduce anonymity for rape defendants. I received a reply from her officials making it clear that this was not seen as her responsibility and that it was being sent instead to the Ministry of Justice. I urge her to rethink that approach because she will know, as the Minister for Women and Equalities and as Home Secretary, that according to the British crime survey, 93% of rape victims are women. [...]

Lynne Featherstone MP replies:

I assure the right hon. Lady that we definitely see this as an issue for women and equalities, albeit that it resides ultimately in the Ministry of Justice legislatively, and that the Home Secretary will contact her directly regarding her questions.

Their department's complete silence on the matter hadn't gone unnoticed outside Parliament either. That they were trying to deflect relevant questions to Justice is very worrying in terms of their commitment more generally - it speaks again of the compartmentalised "Equality belongs in equality-related legislation" attitude that the last government had.

Later on in the day, Rosie Winterton MP, in the discussion of Parliament's agenda for the following weeks, asks:

On anonymity for defendants in rape cases, we are now getting increasingly confusing and contradictory comments from the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary and, indeed, the Prime Minister. Three weeks ago, the Government pledged to give defendants anonymity. Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister appeared to change that position to one whereby the accused would be named only if prosecutors brought charges, and this week the Justice Secretary blamed the Liberal Democrats, saying that they had adopted the policy in opposition. There was further confusion at questions to the Minister for Women and Equalities today.

Ministers keep saying that they want a proper, considered discussion, but it is extremely difficult for hon. Members to contribute to any discussion when it is completely unclear which Minister is speaking for the Government. The policy seems to be the victim of hasty negotiations, but the real victims will be women who have been raped. The need for a proper debate on the subject has now become urgent, and I ask the Leader of the House to give us an assurance that he will allocate one of the Government's general debates-we have a lot of them at the moment-to it.

Last time he was asked (June 11), George Young MP tried to deflect the calls for a debate in Parliament by suggesting it could be debated by the new Backbench Business Committee. This time, he simply says:

Anonymity for defendants in rape cases is a serious issue, about which there is a wide range of views. The Government are determined to drive up the conviction rate for rape and ensure that those who are convicted get serious sentences. I agree with the right hon. Lady that it is right for the House to debate the matter seriously and calmly, and I will do what I can to provide for such a debate.

No denial that the government's responses so far have been inconsistent, there. The earliest that the debate could be held is probably early July.

June 21, 2010

Four written questions in the Commons, today.

Caroline Flint MP asks the Ministry for Justice what recent research the department has evaluated on the level of stigma associated with rape accusations as compared with other crimes, and the frequency of false allegations as compared with other crimes. Crispin Blunt MP says to look at his previous answer (none, but we're going to).

She then asks the Minister for Women and Equalities what discussions they have had on anonymity for rape defendants with the Ministers for Justice, and when. Lynne Featherstone MP gives a generic non-answer:

I have regular discussions with ministerial colleagues, including the Secretary of State for Justice, on a range of issues, and will continue to do so to develop the policies and priorities included in the coalition programme for Government.

Glenda Jackson MP asks:

(1) how many of those convicted of domestic violence offences between 2003 and 2010 had a history of a consensual sexual relationship with the person against whom their offences were perpetrated;

(2) [...] in which completed cases a woman was murdered between 2003 and 2010 by someone well known to her and where there was a history of consensual sexual relationship.

Crispin Blunt MP again says "it'll be in the report that we haven't written yet".

Sheila Gilmore MP (Labour, Edinburgh East) asks if Justice has had any discussions with Rape Crisis about these proposals. Predictably, Crispin Blunt MP says not.

Meanwhile, in the Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours asks:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether persons falsely accused of sexual offences would enjoy anonymity prior to court proceedings under their proposals for anonymity for persons accused of sexual offences; and what assessment they have made of how their proposals would have affected the case of Teresa McKenzie of Meifod, Powys.

It's an utterly bizarre question. Why would proposals for anonymity only apply to those who were not falsely accused? How would you even know, prior to the court proceedings stage?

Lord McNally answers that he can't comment on that particular case, and then goes on to talk about how it's all just proposals, everything will be considered, etc., in continuing but at least consistent contradiction to the programme for government.

Unusually, this particular case was actually reported on prior to the verdict, but only just - reporting didn't start until the beginning of the trial. It seems somewhat unlikely that much would have been materially affected by anonymity in terms of the trial.

June 22, 2010

Some more written questions and answers first. Helen Jones MP, Stephen Mosley MP (Conservative, City of Chester) and Iain Wright MP (Labour, Hartlepool) both ask about the conviction rates for their local areas. This data isn't held, but Crispin Blunt MP is able to give them the tables for their local police authorities.

There are also two questions by Caroline Lucas MP, on the funding arrangements for rape crisis centres.

The answer - again from Crispin Blunt MP - is somewhat vague, but it looks as if the decision will be taken as part of the autumn spending review. Given the budget, this may end up being an autumn not-spending review, so this doesn't look particularly hopeful at this stage.

In the Commons, meanwhile, the Attorney General is one of the people available for questioning. Their predecessor Vera Baird (formerly Labour MP for Redcar) has criticised the anonymity proposals very strongly: naturally, the current Conservative incumbent, Dominic Grieve MP (Conservative, Beaconsfield) has different views.

Jim Dobbin MP (Labour, Heywood & Middleton) opens the questioning by asking:

What recent discussions he has had with the Director of Public Prosecutions on policy on the prosecution of cases involving allegations of rape.

Dominic Grieve MP dodges the question (and does it so obviously that I wonder why he bothered to), and then follows up with the usual "full debate" speech). Jim Dobbin MP follows up by asking if he feels that anonymity for defendants will discourage reporting, which Dominic Grieve MP disagrees with.

Alan Beith MP (Lib Dem, Berwick-upon-Tweed) then asks a question, which I think makes them the first coalition MP to do so on this subject.

If we go down the road of balancing victim anonymity with anonymity for the person accused, is not the important consideration that if the prosecution has good reason to believe that evidence will be brought to light if the identity is known, it should be possible to waive anonymity?

Certainly this would be important to have, but I suspect that the more useful point will be those cases where the police need to release the names - or more often, descriptions and e-fits - of suspects to help identify a rapist. Well before prosecution, anyway.

The Attorney General's reply is worrying, however:

Yes; my right hon. Friend makes an important point. I have no doubt that that issue is one of those that can be examined. It is worth bearing in mind that the existing anonymity for complainants has the consequence, for example, that there are occasions when a history of false complaints made to someone other than the police does not come to light before a trial takes place. However, that has not been put forward as an argument for removing anonymity for complainant victims. He is correct, however, that such matters can all be looked at properly when we examine this area of the law.

If the alleged false complaints are made to someone other than the police, then no rape has been reported and no anonymity applies. (though, of course, the press are very unlikely to report on it anyway) I can't imagine a situation where this would occur and it would be known that the earlier non-police reports were false. I'm also extremely worried that he brought it up as even a potential reason for removing anonymity for victims.

Maria Eagle MP again raises the point that the talk in Parliament about debates and investigations doesn't match the firm language of the Programme for Government. The answer is predictable.

Later in the debate, Kevin Brennan MP repeats Jim Dobbin MP's initial question (who gets to ask questions is somewhat random, so groups of MPs really wanting a question asked will all submit it, which means that sometimes duplicates get through). Kevin Brennan MP then uses his follow-up question to ask if the Attorney General agrees with Kenneth Clarke MP's previous suggestions of a free vote on the matter, which gets the predictable "not my decision" answer:

It will be for Government members who are introducing the policy to decide whether that matter should be subject to a free vote or not.

Those would presumably be Kenneth Clarke MP and the other Justice ministers, but they've previously said that the decision would be for the Whips' office. It probably doesn't matter either way - it's not going to be a confidence vote, and almost certainly if it does come to a vote it will be a minor vote on an amendment to a much larger bill, so convincing Lib Dem or Conservative MPs to vote against it, or abstain, or not show up, is probably going to be the same difficulty whether it's officially a free vote or not.

24 June 2010

Just one short exchange in the Commons today, but it's a very important one:

George Young MP:

The provisional business for the week commencing 5 July will include:


Thursday 8 July-General debate on defendant anonymity.

Rosie Winterton MP:

I thank the Leader of the House for granting the general debate on defendant anonymity. That is very welcome.

So, that will probably be the next major debate on the proposals - and excellent work by Rosie Winterton MP and colleagues in keeping up the pressure until this debate was scheduled.

28 June 2010

Kate Green MP puts in another written question asking if the Home Office has discussed any of this with the police. Lynne Featherstone MP isn't even subtle about not answering the question.

It wasn't a surprise that they hadn't discussed this policy with anyone when it was first proposed, but it's now a month later, and they keep getting asked if they've consulted anyone yet - I'm surprised they haven't arranged a few quick meetings so that they can answer "yes" to these.

In the Commons, Kerry McCarthy MP asks a similar question as part of questions to the Home Office. Lynne Featherstone MP's answer adds nothing new.

Next is Alan Johnson MP.

I would be interested at some stage to learn the Home Secretary's views on the issue, because it is a crucial one both for the Home Department and for equalities. The Lord Chancellor told the House the other day that he had voted for anonymity in 2003. I voted against it, and that is still my view, but at some stage I would like to know the Home Secretary's view.

As for the Minister, she will know that the Prime Minister recently told the House when he replied to a question on the issue that Baroness Stern had

"found that 8 to 10% of reported rape cases could result in false allegations."-[ Hansard, 9 June 2010; Vol. 511, c. 329.]

The Minister should know that the Stern report made no such finding and that what Baroness Stern recommended was independent research to study the frequency of false allegations of rape compared with other offences. Does the Minister agree that the Government ought to be implementing that recommendation, instead of proposing to introduce anonymity?

The response from Lynne Featherstone MP:

In the first instance, I am sure that the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Justice will indeed look at what sort of research is necessary, prior to bringing any debate to the House.

Fiona Mactaggart MP keeps up the pressure:

I was slightly taken aback by the hon. Lady's "Oh, we're going to look at the research before we do this", given that, up until now, it seems there has been a failure to talk to those tasked with implementing the policy. Has she or any of her colleagues spoken to the Association of Chief Police Officers lead on rape about the policy, and what has his response been?

Lynne Featherstone MP replies that of course she hasn't actually talked to anyone, though it's not impossible that the Secretary of State for Justice might have broken ranks to do so. She puts it more politely than that, though.

Theresa May MP (Conservative, Maidenhead) the Home Secretary seems to be letting her deputy handle the questions on this issue.

30 June 2010

Anna Soubry MP (Conservative, Broxtowe) puts forward a Private Member's Bill on Anonymity (Arrested Persons).

1 July 2010

David Lammy MP (Labour, Tottenham) asks a similar question about rape prosecutions and convictions to the ones asked by his colleagues previously. Again, Crispin Blunt MP provides the statistics for the local police authority.

We have confirmation that a general debate on defendant anonymity will be held on 8 May.

5 July 2010

Another written question from Caroline Flint MP to see if the government has any idea what that line in their programme for government means yet.

Crispin Blunt MP says "no, why would we?"

Many organisations have signed up to this statement opposing the government's plans.

8 July 2010

Caroline Flint MP asks for an update on the Government's evidence report. Crispin Blunt MP says it will be ready for the week beginning 26 July.

EDM 105 gets some additional signatures, mostly from Labour, but also including Naomi Long MP (Alliance, Belfast East) who becomes the fourth non-Labour signatory.

The main event of the day, however, was the general debate on defendant anonymity. This was a five hour debate, with many new speakers on the subject. Both the Equalities Ministers were hiding, though. Here's the list of speakers, with new speakers marked with a *.

More thoughts on this debate

Speakers for anonymity
  • Crispin Blunt MP (Conservative, Reigate)
  • Michael Ellis MP (Conservative, Northampton North, *)
  • Rehman Chishti MP (Conservative, Gillingham & Rainham, *)
  • Aidan Burley MP (Conservative, Cannock Chase, *)
  • Guy Opperman MP (Conservative, Hexham, *)
  • Jonathan Djangoly MP (Conservative, Huntingdon, *)
Speakers against anonymity
  • Caroline Flint MP (Labour, Don Valley)
  • Maria Eagle MP (Labour, Garston & Halewood)
  • Louise Bagshawe MP (Conservative, Corby, *)
  • Meg Munn MP (Labour, Sheffield Heeley)
  • Kate Green MP (Labour, Stretford & Urmston)
  • Yvette Cooper MP (Labour, Normanton, Pontefract & Castleford)
  • Geraint Davies MP (Labour, Swansea West, *)
  • Bridget Philipson MP (Labour, Houghton & Sunderland South)
  • Anna Soubry MP (Conservative, Broxtowe, *)
  • Sarah Wollaston MP (Conservative, Totnes, *)
  • Stella Creasy MP (Labour, Walthamstow, *)
  • Nia Griffith MP (Labour, Llanelli, *)
  • Chi Onwurah MP (Labour, Newcastle upon Tyne Central, *)
Other speakers

They oppose the plans as-is but I get the impression from their speeches they would be happy with certain amendments - perhaps extension to other crimes - or with particular guarantees.

  • Simon Hughes MP (Lib Dem, Bermondsey & Old Southwark, *)
  • Keith Vaz MP (Labour, Leicester East, *)
  • Robert Buckland MP (Conservative, South Swindon, *)
  • Nicola Blackwood MP (Conservative, Oxford West & Abingdon, *)

13 July 2010

David Lammy MP follows up on this earlier question to ask about the same figures for a selection of non-sexual violent crimes.

In the Greater London police area, those non-sexual crimes have a fairly consistent conviction rate of around 12,500 convictions out of about 20,000 proceedings. Conversely, the rate for rape cases is closer to around 150 out of 575 proceedings. Almost twice as many proceedings are successful for the non-sexual violent crimes, and this is already bearing in mind that the prosecutors only proceed with cases that they believe they can win.

20 July 2010

More questions to Justice about the proposal, from Meg Munn MP and Maria Eagle MP, asking if there will be a public consultation. Meg Munn MP asks:

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his answer. Has he considered the fact that, under his current proposals for anonymity up until charge, somebody arrested on suspicion of rape but then charged with sexual assault would enjoy anonymity, whereas somebody arrested on suspicion of sexual assault but then charged with rape would not enjoy anonymity under the coalition's proposals?

Crispin Blunt MP doesn't even attempt to give a sensible answer to this - his point later in reply to Maria Eagle MP that the legal definition of rape has changed since 1988 due to the Sexual Offences Act 2003 makes this situation even more absurd because of the offence of "assault by penetration".

Caroline Flint MP later in the debate asks Kenneth Clarke MP:

Evidence suggests that 75 to 90% of rapes go unreported, and I hope that the whole House will try to deal with that situation to improve it. Is the Justice Secretary at all worried that his plans to provide anonymity for defendants in rape trials will contribute to fewer rapists going to prison?

He answers that no, he is not at all worried about that:

I do not think that there is anybody in this House-and there has not been for as long as I can remember-who is not in favour of anonymity for people who make complaints of rape and who does not think it extremely important to encourage women to come forward on all proper occasions to press complaints about the serious criminal offence of rape. The issues surrounding anonymity for the person accused are quite different from that, and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice, my hon. Friend Mr Blunt, has just addressed those questions. This is a matter of how far we can protect those people, and others accused of criminal offences, up to the time of charge. That approach has been agreed by those on both sides of this House in the not-too-distant past-in the previous Parliament-and it probably will eventually be agreed in this Parliament too.

His statement about "and others accused of criminal offences" would make more sense were the coalition proposing to offer anonymity to anyone accused of other criminal offences.

22 July 2010

Lord Rosser (Labour) asks Lord McNally:

...what evidence they considered on the anonymity of rape defendants before the recent announcement on that matter.

Lord McNally refers him to last month's answer by Kenneth Clarke MP to Bridget Philipson MP's similar question in the Commons.

26 July 2010

Rosie Winterton MP asks:

Will the Leader of the House ensure that when the Government have made up their mind about their policy on rape anonymity, it will be communicated when the House is sitting, especially given that there is another leak in today's papers suggesting that the Government have reversed their stated position?

George Young MP clearly doesn't know what the Government's plans are either, and is only able to confirm what was already clear that there would be no legislation in this Parliamentary session.

Clearly many of our MPs are also doubtful that the reported U-turn is real.

Caroline Flint MP asks about some written questions that remain unanswered.

27 July 2010

Caroline Flint MP's written question gets answered (sort of) by Crispin Blunt MP.

As I made clear at the all-day debate on this subject on 8 July 2010, Hansard, columns 533-602, the Government will consider over the summer recess how best to go about strengthening anonymity up to the point of charge and will bring proposals to Parliament in the autumn. The Government are only considering non-legislative options on this matter and, as I said in the House on 20 July 2010, Hansard, columns 160-61, we are trying to find the best non-statutory solution.

The Government have also decided to postpone publication of an assessment of the existing research and statistics until September. This will allow us to give as full a consideration as possible to the relevant evidence and to address the many questions that have been raised, in particular those raised in the debate on 8 July. The revised time scale also allows appropriate quality checks to be undertaken.

It's not completely clear what "existing research and statistics" they're looking at here, regarding the scope of their search, though I'm trying to find out some things.

Kerry McCarthy MP asks a question about the low (i.e. even lower than the usual low) prosecution rate where victims with disabilities are concerned. Solicitor General Edward Garnier MP agrees that more needs to be done. Caroline Flint MP adds a supplemental question:

Given that one of the vulnerabilities that people with learning disabilities face is that if they are abused or raped in a residential setting, some of those carrying out these rapes will move to another care home and might get lost in the system, and given that the Government have announced that they no longer intend to proceed with putting the application for anonymity on to a legislative basis, but want to look at non-statutory options, may I urge the Solicitor-General and his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General to ensure that there is wide consultation on any non-statutory option to extend anonymity?

Edward Garnier MP simply replies "The point is well made and noted."

Barbara Keeley MP, Geraint Davies MP and Luciana Berger MP ask if as Solicitor General he's received any communication from the Crown Prosecution Service regarding the effects of defendant anonymity on prosecution rates, and ask several follow-up questions. Unlike many of his colleagues, Edward Garnier MP is honest enough to admit that he doesn't know the details of the policy, and that they need to ask the Ministry of Justice (which doesn't appear to know either, but in theory should). Geraint Davies MP's supplemental question:

I have received many representations, including from Swansea student union and women's groups in Swansea. Will the hon. and learned Gentleman now confirm once and for all, given the rumours, that he intends to drop plans to stop police giving out the names of those accused of rape whom the police believe are serial rapists?

It's not something that the Solicitor General can do anything about - he wasn't aware of any such plans - but they are one of the possible consequences of reporting restrictions applying pre-arrest, depending on how they are drafted. (Voluntary non-statutory guidance to the press, as is rumoured, would of course not do this, though it might attempt to)

16 September 2010

George Young MP misunderstands a question from Maria Eagle MP about a different report on the handling of rape cases, revealing that the promised report from the Ministry of Justice is now postponed - again - until October. Caroline Flint MP is unimpressed.

11 October 2010

Caroline Lucas MP asks what happened to that report, among with various other questions about the reasons for the Justice department's decision on the matter. Crispin Blunt MP replies that the assessment will be published soon. Since this makes the third announced delay, it looks like they might be having trouble finding an independent assessment that does anything to justify their plans.

12 November 2010

The Government, via Crispin Blunt MP, announces that the plans are being dropped entirely.