Monday, 28 June 2010

No, really, this helps no-one.

[trigger warning]

Hannah Mudge has searched through all reports of false accusations in the Daily Mail in the last couple of years. They're getting more commonplace.

It also gives a large sample of recorded false accusations, that can be checked through to see if any of the cases mentioned were previously reported in the press.

(As you'd expect, almost all of them were not)

Some of the articles don't say who was accused. I've tried to look for reporting of the cases in other papers, and if that didn't work, looked for reporting of cases matching what details are available. I've excluded the entries from Hannah's list where the Daily Mail claims that the claim was false on the basis of an acquittal (which I don't believe is always sufficient evidence that the claim is false, even if it is sufficient to prove that the defendant did not commit rape) - this does not remove many cases. I have included cases where the false allegation trial was ongoing even when I was unable to find confirmation that the defendant in the false allegation trial was convicted.

In only one of these cases - including some where the defendant was convicted and later released after an appeal - was the original rape case reported on in the press, so it doesn't significantly change the results to exclude them.

Reported date (from Hannah's list)Date of verdict different?Rape case reported before?Notes
25 June 2010NoNo
18 June 2010NoNo
18 June 2010Yes - 1999/2006No
11 June 2010NoNo
8 June 2010NoNo suspects
2 June 2010 case 1NoNo
2 June 2010 case 2Yes - 2006/8No
25 May 2010--Duplicate of 2 June 2010 report
10 May 2010NoNo
5 March 2010NoNoGail Sherwood
16 February 2010NoNo
19 January 2010NoNo
5 December 2009NoNo
7 November 2009NoNo
6 November 2009NoNo
1 November 2009NoOnce in a newswire, but no suspects named
14 August 2009-- Duplicate of 16 February 2010 report
22 July 2009NoNo
3 July 2009NoNo
2 July 2009NoOnce, but before any suspects found
30 June 2009NoNo
21 May 2009*NoConviction of accuser not reported previously
23 December 2008NoNo
17 September 2008NoNo
29 August 2008NoNo
25 August 2008NoNo
18 August 2008NoNo
29 July 2008NoNo
8 April 2008NoYes, post arrest, one "in brief" entry in local paper
7 March 2008NoNo
12 February 2008NoNo
13 November 2007NoNo
14 June 2007NoNo
12 May 2007NoNo
23 April 2007NoNo
24 March 2007NoNo
16 March 2007NoNo

So of the 37 cases where someone was charged with making a false allegation, only 1 was reported in a way that named the suspected rapist, and that briefly in a local paper (which didn't get a mention when the suspect was later talking about the effect on his life). This is not that surprising - in most of the cases no-one was charged (though several were arrested), which significantly reduces the chances of cases reaching the attention of the media.

The estimate of slightly more than one a year, which I thought was using generous assumptions to begin with, now looks even less likely - I was assuming that only about 4% of rape cases would be reported, almost all post-arrest. It appears from this that of the sub-sample of false allegations, the figure may be even lower than that - around 2.5%, and almost all post-charge. That reduces the number of people likely to be helped after a false allegation by the government proposals to one every three or four years (and again, these stories all show that it's not the non-existent press attention that causes the harm to people who are falsely accused).

So, as expected, it's a proposal that helps no-one but could harm thousands.

Of course, when a rape defendant is granted anonymity, the Daily Mail takes a very different line.

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Friday, 25 June 2010

Friday Links

Another week where I've not been able to read around as much as I'd like to. Again, please leave suggestions for things I should have read in comments.

This makes even less sense than I initially thought.

[trigger warning]

But first, some other updates on the rape defendant anonymity proposal:

So, there's the argument - advanced by Kenneth Clarke MP among other members of parliament, and by numerous supporters of rape defendant anonymity on the internet - that the defendant should get anonymity because the victim does. Or, alternatively, though not yet on the record from anyone in government, the defendant shouldn't have anonymity but neither should the victim.

I've already pointed out that there's no general reason why the defendant and victim should have the same treatment in a court case, but let's assume - as many people have argued by assertion - that in the particular case of anonymity this is true, and the suspect or defendant and the victim should have an identical level of anonymity.

Where then are all the people calling for the (over 18) victims of (non-sexual) crimes where the defendant is under 18 to be made anonymous. After all, the defendant has anonymity, so surely so should the victim. It'd only be fair.

The reason no-one is calling for this, of course, is that it makes no sense whatsoever. There is no need for the victims in those crimes to remain anonymous, whereas the defendants are anonymous for a range of near-universally accepted reasons. Nevertheless, if you believe that "defendant anonymity" should always be equal to "victim anonymity", that's what you're arguing for.

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Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Disenfranchisement by design

The disability charity Scope has released its 2010 Polls Apart Report (PDF) on the inaccessibility of the general election.

67% of polling stations surveyed by the charity had one or more serious accessibility flaws. 68% in 2005, 69% in 2001, so at this rate, we should have accessible polling stations for the 2345 general election. Only around half of the polling stations without serious accessibility flaws did not have some other flaws, so perhaps even longer than that.

They note - with evident anger at what the press considers newsworthy - that the unusual reported disenfranchisement of voters in the recent election is a regular and unreported occurence for many disabled voters.

Some quotes from the report follow, but if you have time, the whole thing is worth reading.

Page 12 of the PDF:

When we wrote to all local authorities, we found that they already knew that 14 percent (n = 3,851) of the polling stations they had reviewed for accessibility and intended to use at the election would not be accessible to disabled voters.

More details on page 17 of the PDF, including the finding that up to 11% of local authorities had failed to meet their legal obligation to review polling accessibility, and that of the 890 polling stations that were found to be inaccessible, only 60 were changed.

Page 20 of the PDF, regarding voters who require an assistant to help them vote:

Over the course of the Polls Apart campaign we have come across a number of worrying cases of disabled people not being allowed to vote (or only being able to after a long and strenuous confrontation) because presiding officers do not know when to grant admittance to a companion to assist with voting. As this Polls Apart 5 campaigner told us:

"I arrived accompanied by both my wife and one of our daughters to vote. We checked in, and one of the electoral staff asked: (not sure who it was directed to wife or daughter) `Does the gentleman need help in completing the form?' `Excuse me I am here.' was my response. The electoral officer became agitated when I suggested that either my wife or daughter would assist me if I was unable to cope. This, it appeared, was like a red rag to a bull in that suddenly all sorts of obstacles were thrown up, not least the: `Well, I am supposed to help, but if a family member helps then there is a lot, a great deal of paper work to complete.' He seemed even more perturbed when I responded: `Fine, get the forms ready as I want someone I know and trust to help me, not a stranger.'"

They draw attention to the fact that many disabled people were not allowed to vote at all until 1949 or 1983 (depending on disability). Suffrage was not entirely clear until 2006, though, as this reversed the burden of proof - rather than the voter having to prove that they are capable of making an autonomous voting decision (a requirement obviously open to abuse), it is now required to prove that they cannot.

We will get to universal suffrage one day, I'm sure. I remember being told that we had had it for years, but 1949, 1983, 2006 all gave it to more people who should never have been denied the vote in the first place, and none of those dates were even mentioned. Sadly, though, not all the polling staff are up to date on this. From page 33 of the PDF:

However, we found that 6 percent of disabled voters had their ability to vote questioned by polling staff. This is a significant concern and implies that, despite clear guidance from the Electoral Commission, some electoral staff still feel they have the right to make ill-informed decisions about who can and cannot vote.

The report of polling stations not being prepared for blind voters seems to have been the norm: only 25% of polling stations had a tactile voting device that they knew how to use.

Page 37 of the PDF, in a section on the accessibility of postal votes (better than that for polling stations on average, but that average hides a lot of details):

Postal voting remains inaccessible to many disabled people, particularly those with visual impairments, dexterity issues, learning difficulties and low literacy. Postal voting should be a choice, not the only option, and we were concerned that some disabled people reported feeling pressured to choose a postal vote as an alternative to their inaccessible polling station.

Page 41 of the PDF makes an excellent point:

Finally, on a wider point, a notable absence at the 2010 General Election, and past elections for that matter, are disabled election staff. We all know that when a particular group is not represented in a particular area of life, at work or in our school, then the needs of the group are not visible and therefore not addressed.

[...]

This theme has been addressed in part through a parallel debate centred on the difficulty disabled people face in becoming elected representatives in public life, and the solutions that have been proposed to promote more disabled people to stand for office. There is clearly some learning that can be taken here to design solutions for increasing the number of disabled people who are involved in an official capacity in the planning and delivery of elections. The increase, in turn, may lead to greater awareness and understanding amongst electoral services about the access barriers that many disabled voters can face, and most importantly, how to remove them.

...and on Page 42 of the PDF a clear criticism of privilege and disablism.

What was interesting for the Polls Apart campaign was the way in which lack of access to the ballot and unhelpful behaviours and actions by election staff were portrayed as something new. As something that only happens in the fragile democracies of `third world countries', to borrow the phrase of a number of commentators and broadcasters at the time. We have been reporting for over 18 years about the fact that hundreds if not thousands of disabled people at every election, here in the UK, have experienced significant access barriers or not been able to cast their vote safely or in secret. What we are seeing in these experiences is the more visible articulation of the extent to which our inherently inaccessible voting system is vulnerable to unexpected events, such as an increase in voter registration or turn out, and the serious impact it has on voters' experiences.

Scope set out a broad set of recommendations to solve these problems. Whether any of them actually get done will be harder to tell - I'll certainly be watching to see if any of them make it into the government's electoral reform bill, whenever that appears.

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Tuesday, 22 June 2010

A commitment on rape the government should keep

[trigger warning]

The discussions in Parliament on rape defendant anonymity continue (timeline updated), but meanwhile there is a second government policy proposal that also deserves some attention, and would do a lot of good if it happened.

Phillipa Willitts at The F-Word draws attention to a campaign by Rape Crisis (England and Wales) to make sure that the coalition government keeps its promise (in the Justice section of the Programme for Government) to:

[...] consider how to use proceeds from the Victim Surcharge to deliver up to 15 new rape crisis centres, and give existing rape crisis centres stable, long-term funding.

Naturally, Rape Crisis would prefer that they did more than "consider how to" do this, and actually implemented it.

They have a sample letter which they suggest is sent to Theresa May MP, the Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities. Given that her department has previously said "nothing to do with us, that's a Justice proposal" on a related matter, it might be worth also sending it to Kenneth Clarke MP, the Minister for Justice.

As always, if you have the time to adapt and rephrase the template letter to reflect your personal thoughts and writing style, it's more likely to be taken into consideration - receiving 50 different letters has far more impact with MPs than receiving 500 identical ones. (Nevertheless, if you don't have the time, energy and/or ability to set thoughts down in writing in a manner you are satisfied with, it's still definitely better to send a template letter than not to do so).

Here's mine (a slightly different version went to Kenneth Clarke):

Dear Theresa May MP, Home Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities

In the coalition Programme for Government is the commitment to

consider how to use proceeds from the Victim Surcharge to deliver up to 15 new rape crisis centres, and give existing rape crisis centres stable, long-term funding.

Your colleague, Kenneth Clarke QC MP, reiterated this commitment in Parliament on 15 June (HC Deb, 15 June 2010, c725), saying

The Government are committed to providing up to 15 more rape crisis centres.

With 10 centres in England and Wales having closed in the previous five years, this remains an urgent issue. It is not enough for the government to commit to providing funding for these centres; it needs to begin providing that funding urgently.

Rape crisis centres provide an extremely valuable service to women and girls who have survived rape, providing specialist support services that would otherwise be unavailable, but the lack of sustainable funding means that many areas of England and Wales do not have a rape crisis centre, and for those that do the future is uncertain.

In Scotland, however, the provision of guaranteed government funding has significantly improved the stability of rape crisis centres, and allowed four more to open.

The government must back up its commitment with quick action, and allow rape victims/survivors in England and Wales access to the same services as are available in Scotland. Will you, in conjunction with your colleagues in the Ministry of Justice, set a date for this commitment to be implemented, in time to prevent the closure of further centres.

Yours sincerely,

[me]

Contact details for Equalities Office

Contact details for the Ministry of Justice

The F-Word post includes details of other possible campaign actions.

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Friday, 18 June 2010

Friday Links

In good news related to previous posts:

...and that's it for this week. I've been too busy to read as much as usual. Please make your own suggestions for reading in comments.

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'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.

Secondly:

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.

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Thursday, 17 June 2010

Crime, children and statistics

The British Crime Survey has been mentioned quite a bit recently. One of the things that I noted was that it only covers crime against adults. They're currently looking at surveying children as well, which this BBC article covers.

There's a fair amount of trivialisation of crime against children going on in the article and to a lesser extent in the research too. The research summary (PDF) is on the Home Office website.

[trigger warning]

Using the "adult" definition of crime, they found that around 2.2 million personal crimes (theft and non-sexual violence) were committed against children aged 10 to 15 in England and Wales in 2009, which is around four times the adult rate.

They then looked at various exclusion categories:

  • Ignoring incidents defined as "childish behaviour". Some of these are things that would probably be ignored by most adults, too, but some are fairly serious incidents of bullying. This cut the figures down to 1.1 million (but note that it excludes some things that the children themselves considered to be crimes committed against them, and some things that were an interaction of the same sort to take place between two adults there would be no doubt that it was "really" a crime)

  • Another exclusion was to ignore all incidents that take place at schools. Down to 0.6 million, ignoring theft, assaults that left children bleeding, and probably some other nasty stuff.

    The interesting thing about this: ignoring incidents at school takes out almost three quarters of the crimes. What does this say about the safety of our schools for children and their ability to stop bullying?

    They say about these incidents in the PDF

    [...] the matter remains within the school's internal disciplinary processes. This is likely to result in most low-level incidents being dealt with by school authorities and not recorded as crimes by the police.

    Or ignored by school authorities and not recorded by the police, perhaps.

  • The final type of exclusion is to include only those incidents that the child themselves classifies as a crime, which only counts 0.4 million. Remember that children will probably have received less education than adults as to what counts as a crime, and that even with adults it has long been recognised that describing behaviours rather than naming specific crimes gives far more accurate results.

Now, I absolutely agree that prosecuting the offenders, who are also often children, in many of these cases is not in the public interest, or even in the interest of the victim (and unlikely to help reform or rehabilitate the offender either). Other options would need to be used, which might include the school's internal disciplinary processes.

I'm also, looking at the massive drop in estimated crime if incidents at school are dropped, even more convinced (as if I wasn't already) that schools view bullying as a natural part of school life, and are not anywhere near as serious as they should be about stopping it, given that they set up an environment where it is very likely to happen.

The pilot didn't cover sexual assaults and related crimes, which also happen to children a lot, but this is also true of the main BCS

The back pages of the PDF (29 and 30) have some consultation questions and an address to send responses too. It's worth sending something in, if you have any opinions on the matter.

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Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Yes, this is exactly a "Rapist's Charter"

Yesterday's Justice debate in the Commons, as predicted, had a lot of questions for the government on their proposal to give rape suspects anonymity.

There were many speeches, all now linked to in the updated parliamentary timeline and several written questions.

For now, though, I just want to concentrate on an answer given by Kenneth Clarke QC MP (Conservative, Rushcliffe) near the end of the debate.

[trigger warning]

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?

It's a reasonable question, but after all the other reasonable questions he's already been asked during the debate, it finally provokes him into saying what he's actually thinking. I'll break this into a few separate bits.

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.

I'm entirely sure that the Conservative and Lib Dem MPs supporting this proposal were somewhat taken by surprise by the breadth and depth of opposition it rapidly attracted. This is because they're a bunch of mostly-white, mostly-male, mostly-otherwise-default people with very little sense of their own privilege and very little empathy for people who aren't like them.

Mr Clarke previously in the debate was offering some unconvincing denials that the proposal only made it into the programme for government because of the all-male negotiating teams.

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.

This is something I don't know whether there have been any studies done (though I'd be surprised if not) - and if the government is going to fund some more, great.

However, this is not the only reason for which suspected rapists' anonymity is undesirable.

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.

My initial reaction mirrored that of several of the MPs present, recorded in Hansard:

What?

I'll say it again. What?

Mr Clarke, let us remember, is the Justice Secretary. Responsible for Justice, and crime and punishment and law and order and other such things.

He has just described someone who has been convicted, in the courts of this land, of one of the most severe crimes we recognise, and he is complaining that this convicted criminal has to live with the consequences? That is the entire point of having a justice system, and criminal law, and punishing people who break it, that criminals have consequences for their actions that they have to live with.

I know there are good arguments for reform of the justice system and the prison system, that justice is often racist and classist, that prison conditions can be needlessly unpleasant, and that people are often given prison sentences for minor crimes that would be better dealt with in some other way. Saying "Oh, poor rapists. How terrible that they're imprisoned." is not, however, the sort of reform that the system needs, and not the sort of reform I expected a "tough on crime" Conservative to suggest.

Back when this proposal was first released in the programme for government, it was called "a rapist's charter". People calling it that were told that they were over-reacting - it was "for suspects", "innocent until proven guilty", that was "all". But now and again, the mask slips, and its real purpose becomes clearer.

Congratulations to all the Labour MPs involved in keeping up the scrutiny of the government here. It sounds like some more will be needed.

Meanwhile, in other "sexual predators getting light sentences" news, a police officer who coerced women into sexual activity in exchange for overlooking minor traffic offences has been jailed for the derisory term of three and a half years on charges of "misconduct in public office".

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Tuesday, 15 June 2010

A distorted image of science

[trigger warning for eating disorders]

The BBC, in its usual uncritical way, reports on a paper claiming that people's sense of proprioception is not great. Proprioception, if you haven't heard the term before, is the internal sense of position - you know where any limbs you have are in relation to the rest of your body, at what angle your head is to your shoulders, and so on, without having to look.

The paper itself (payment/subscription needed for full text) is really quite interesting. They tested how exact this sense of proprioception is by asking people to point to the fingertips and knuckles of one hand with the other hand while not being able to see it, and found that people tended to miss by a fair bit, estimating their hands to be shorter and wider than they really were.

I tested this briefly in an uncontrolled fashion with my own hands, and yes, this does seem to happen to at least some people.

So, the next time someone tells you that they know X like the back of their hand? Worry.

This is not an area I have much knowledge about, so if there are giant flaws in the research methodology, I don't stand much chance of finding them. There are none stunningly obvious to me as a scientific generalist, though some things that do stand out are:

  • All of their experimental samples (for four variations of the study) have more women than men, some by a significant margin. If gender was significantly affecting the results they didn't mention it, but this suggests some other bias in how they recruited their samples which might be significant.
  • They don't mention, but it seems likely by implication, that all of the sample had relatively average vision. Whether this effect also occurs in people who aren't able to use vision to supplement proprioception in most cases seems an important question.

The flaws, as usual, come in the interpretation for the press release and news articles, where, according to the BBC:

The brain naturally distorts body image - a finding which could explain eating disorders like anorexia, say experts.

[...]

Distorted perception may dominate in some people, leading to body image problems, a US journal reports.

Lead researcher Dr Matthew Longo said: "These findings may well be relevant to psychiatric conditions involving body image such as anorexia nervosa, as there may be a general bias towards perceiving the body to be wider than it is.

"Our results show dramatic distortions of hand shape, which were highly consistent across participants."

...and in come the wild extrapolations.

It is, I suppose, possible that the body image distortions of anorexia nervosa have the same basic cause as this one, and it would be entirely reasonable to do some follow-up studies in this direction.

But there's no evidence yet to justify Dr Longo's speculation that there's even a tendency to misperceive your own body width in the general1 case, or that people with anorexia nervosa misguess where the edges of their body are more than people without.

The proprioception errors they report on are fairly clearly not "proprioception plus vision" errors, but anorexia nervosa is not generally a condition that only takes effect when not observing oneself visually, which is some evidence that they aren't the same effects.

The hand distortion seems to be fairly consistent across the sample and not related to any obvious social effects. Anorexia nervosa has been fairly strongly linked to social effects, and varies widely in severity across the population.

It's an interesting study with potentially interesting follow-ups, but both the news article and Dr Longo's quotes are assuming prior to doing the needed follow-up studies that the distorted body image of proprioception and the distorted body image of anorexia nervosa are distorted in the same way, or even involve the same meaning of "body image". As usual, the BBC seems to have largely uncritically reported and extended a press release.

Here's the original press release - there's one relevant quote at the end, in a press release that otherwise actually summarises the research very well:

“These findings may well be relevant to psychiatric conditions involving body image such as anorexia nervosa, as there may be a general bias towards perceiving the body to be wider than it is. Our healthy participants had a basically accurate visual image of their own body, but the brain’s model of the hand underlying position sense was highly distorted. This distorted perception could come to dominate in some people, leading to distortions of body image as well, such as in eating disorders,” said Dr Longo.

It's not as bad as some of the BBC's science reporting, but it's got all the same types of error - unjustified extrapolation, uncritical reprinting of press releases, not reading the actual paper, etc.

1 They might also need to sharpen up their recruitment strategies to get a control group from a society where "thin is good / fat is bad" isn't the overwhelming social message.

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Monday, 14 June 2010

How many is this actually helping?

Some more discussion of whether the coalition's proposals on rape defendant anonymity would do anything useful, even if the inevitable negative effects are ignored or disbelieved. (Summary: No)

(and please sign the petition if you haven't got round to it yet)

[trigger warning, especially for some of the links]

Kelly, Lovett and Regan's (PDF) study on attrition includes a section on false allegations. In their sample of 2,643 reported cases, the police had recorded 8% as false allegations. Some of this, however, was found to be due to misclassification - after removing those, and cases where the police had declared the report false due to misconceptions of what a "real" rape victim would do, they estimated that around 67 of the sample were really false allegations. Between these allegations, there were at most1 39 named suspects, 6 of whom were arrested and 2 charged.

The British Crime Survey reports that police recorded 13,133 rapes in the 2008-9 reporting period. Based on the combination of these figures, we'd therefore expect at most (39 / 2,643) * (13,133) false accusations naming a suspect annually, or around 200.

Previously calculated: there are around 210,000 actual rapes each year, or over a thousand times as many. I know it must be unpleasant to be falsely accused of any crime, but this is really not a significant risk. (For comparision, around 200 men might be falsely accused each year, but around 7% of those 210,000 actual rapes have a male victim, or around 15,000 annually. That's quite a difference in both risk and impact even if you only consider men)

Of those 200, how many will be reported on in the press? Looking at Lexis Nexis, I'd estimate2 that around 250-500 rape cases annually will receive some reporting in the press either before the end of the trial or when there is an acquittal. (Many more are reported after conviction, of course) A few of these will be reported on multiple times in multiple press sources if it's a particularly high profile trial, but most will not.

So, that's around 500 of 13,000 receiving some press attention. Of those, virtually all are post-arrest. So, of the 6 people arrested on a false accusation, roughly (200 * 6 / 39) * (500 / 13,000), or 1.18, will be reported on in the press. Actually, the number is likely to be smaller than that, since most of the post-arrest press reports are post-charge, the 500 is the upper estimate, some of these reports involve the rape of children under 16 (which involves different crimes), and so on.

So, the coalition is proposing this anonymity in the press for alleged rapists, to help protect the reputation of one person a year. Now, I'm sure this person is very happy about this, and so would I be if the government introduced legislation for my personal benefit.

(Note that even if we go with the higher 8% figure that the raw police data claims - and Kelly et al. demonstrate fairly convincingly why it's probably not the case - that still only increases the partial protection this change would provide to about 5 people a year) Edit 15 June. Sorry, no it doesn't. There were 39 named suspects, 6 arrested, 2 charged, out of the full sample of 2,643. I was already assuming conservatively that the 3% figure included all of them, so increasing the rate back to 8% doesn't add in any more suspects.

Now, it's not that protecting the reputation of the innocent is a bad thing (just as reducing suicides of suspects - even the guilty ones - is not a bad thing). It's just that this is a stunningly ineffective way of doing it and comes with such massive costs that it's impossible to see it as a net benefit to society unless you value the reputations of a few men above the welfare of tens of thousands of rape victims.

For around two or three people's reputation ([stronger trigger warning] and maybe a fraction of a suicide prevented) each year, the government is willing to harm the cases of thousands of rape victims and provide additional to protection to serial rapists.

False, "false" and the unhelpful law

While I'm on the topic of false allegations, I should bring up a flaw in the current law on rape that means that it's possible for an allegation to be simultaneously true and false depending on exactly what definitions you use.

The Sexual Offences Act 2003 defines a set of offences, including rape, using the following formula (emphasis mine):

(1) A person (A) commits an offence if

(a) he [carries out the act associated with this offence] on another person (B)

(b) B does not consent to the [act], and

(c) A does not reasonably believe that B consents.

(2) Whether a belief is reasonable is to be determined having regard to all the circumstances, including any steps A has taken to ascertain whether B consents.

(3) Sections 75 and 76 apply to an offence under this section.

So, the colloquial definition of rape, and the one that matters from the victim's point of view, is that (1a) and (1b) both happen. From a legal point of view, however, for there actually to have been a crime committed, (1c) must also be true. Sections 75 and 76 set out some limited situations in which a belief in consent is automatically unreasonable, but not enough.

This law is still an improvement on the previous one, which allowed unreasonable beliefs to also be a defence, but it's still not enough. It's not the wording of the law as such that's wrong, but the context of the culture it exists in.

In a culture that's so saturated with rape myths - that consent is the default state for women, that wearing revealing clothing or flirting are indicators of consent, that consent is not revocable, that consent to one activity implies consent to other activities, and so on - "reasonable" is a really low standard. In a culture based on enthusiastic consent, it would be a perfectly fine standard, since point (2) would be interpreted usefully, but we don't have one of those and so the law needs to be better worded (wording improvements, of course, would not harm the law's effectiveness in a future enthusiastic consent culture)

It's based on what an average person would do in the same circumstances, but we know from surveys (2005, but more recent surveys give similar numbers) that the average person is very likely to have a rape culture-influenced definition of consent.

We have a situation here where the victim can make an allegation that they believe to be perfectly true - and which is, in any sense other than one, true - but is as a matter of legal fact false.

So, perhaps it's this set of people that Cameron is trying to protect - those that had ideas of consent that don't meet any dictionary definitions of the word, or fit with definitions commonly in use every day in non-sexual contexts. Those, in fact, that Lisak and Miller and previous studies identified as the 5-15% of men who are perfectly willing to admit to carrying out activities meeting the legal definition of rape or other serious sexual offences as long as you don't call it that on the survey. The "I'm not a rapist, I just force women into sexual activity against their will" crowd.

Now, obviously if you include those that the false allegation rate will go way up (and indeed the number of "real rapes" identified by the BCS will drop too), but I'd put it to the government that these are not people deserving of special rights beyond those granted to the average criminal suspect.

1 39, 6 and 2 are figures from the full sample of false allegations, whereas 67 is found by scaling up a sub-sample where sufficient data had been recorded by the police. It's likely, therefore, that some of the 39/6/2 were in the "not actually false" part of the sample, but the paper doesn't state this.

2 The Lexis-Nexis search engine really isn't good enough for this. I restricted the search to a particular year (2009), to UK publications reporting on UK events, and to articles categorised as "Sexual Assault" and "Sex Offences", and searched for articles containing "rape" AND ("alleged" OR "allegation" OR "acquittal"). I then visually checked a sample of the result to see how many of the reports were about the same case, or not actually about a specific rape, or post-conviction, to get an estimate of 250 a year. I then doubled this to allow a margin for errors in searching to get 500.

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Sunday, 13 June 2010

Discriminatory language on TV and radio

Ofcom, the televison, radio and communications regulator, has just released the results of a study into the use of offensive language (PDF, long) in television and radio programs, covering both general expletives and words that negatively stereotype or attack a particular group ("discriminatory language", in the report).

They asked both generalised groups of people, and regarding the discriminatory language, they also asked the targets of specific words.

Unsurprisingly, the targets of specific words were more likely to consider the language offensive and either unacceptable for broadcast or requiring extreme caution and consideration of appropriateness and context in its use, while people who were generally privileged in that respect were not only less likely to consider it offensive themselves but also less likely to expect that people from the target group would consider it offensive.

The groups sampled were relatively small - 94 in the general samples which were balanced for gender, race, employment status, political views, television usage, age and number of children (and almost certainly included some LGBT or disabled people, but this was not monitored or recorded), with a mix of group discussions and in-depth interviews.

There were then 35 people asked, in 5 group discussions and 7 in-depth interviews, specifically: group discussions for LGB people (split into LB and GB), a group discussion for trans women, and two group discussions for male and female travellers; in-depth interviews of one trans man, three people with disabilities (one mental health condition, one mobility-related disability, and one learning-related disability, those being the three groups for which most complaints had previously been received), and three carers for people with disabilities (same disability groupings).

The general sample size is probably large enough, but some of the sub-samples for particular groups were very small indeed: essentially the study's findings on the effect of certain forms of language on its target are informed by the opinions of one person. For disability-related language they asked three people with disabilities and three carers (who may also have had disabilities, of course, but this isn't recorded).

There's a common situation where people without a particular privilege are asked to speak on behalf of everyone in that group. This is a particularly official example.

Within those limitations, however, interpreting the study does give some useful hints for future complaints about broadcasts of discriminatory language:

  • That these words are particularly likely to be harmful to particular groups - and where the study supports this, that Ofcom's own research has found this - is usually the point of the complaint. However, the Broadcasting Code requires the use of "generally accepted standards", and so focusing on why this should centre the opinions of the targets rather than of the general population is also needed.
  • Specifying which the word was inappropriate in that context will almost certainly improve the chances of a successful complaint. This is going to be most difficult for "comedy", because discriminatory language is "funny" and "edgy" and so on.
  • Complaints regarding words not tested in the study or not regarded as offensive by the study will probably not be successful this time. However, it is still worth making them, as this will inform which words are tested in future studies.
  • Looking at the Broadcasting Code's section on "harm and offence", arguing that the problem is harm rather than offence might work.

There is also some indication (though it might, given the small samples, be statistical noise) that attempts to educate regarding the discriminatory effects of language are working. In the appendices is a summary of the results of the previous study. None of the discriminatory language covered in both studies is considered less offensive now, and a couple of items have moved up in seriousness in the general consideration. So that's hopeful, at least.

Ofcom also seems to be making more of an effort this time round - though not enough of a sample yet - to solicit opinions from unprivileged groups, which might be an indication of it taking the issue more seriously.

It's not actually good news yet, but things do seem to be moving slowly in the right direction.

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Friday, 11 June 2010

Friday links

In follow-ups

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.

Secondly:

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.

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