[Women Against Rape is strongly opposed to lifting a complainant’s anonymity. See quote below.]
The Times March 10, 2007, Frances Gibb, Legal Editor
Ministers are looking at giving the Court of Appeal the power to remove the anonymity of serial rape accusers when cases involving them come before judges, The Times has learnt.
The idea of a power to lift a complainant’s anonymity, to be used only in exceptional cases, comes after a case last autumn in which a man’s conviction for sexual assault was quashed as unsafe and his accuser, dubbed a “serial and repeated liar”, was named in the Commons.
But the Solicitor-General, Mike O'Brien, who has been master-minding the proposed reforms, told The Times: “The Government has no plans to remove anonymity for complainants in the vast majority of cases.”
He insisted: “We are very concerned that if we did it would deter victims from coming forward — and we will do nothing to undermine that because a lot of progress has been made in that area.”
He also emphasised that no final decision had been taken.
However, ministers are looking at a very restricted power that might be used where it would be in the “interests of justice” to lift anonymity in the case of a repeat complainant whose allegations were found to be unsubstantiated and the conviction quashed by the Court of Appeal.
At the same time, ministers have backed away from controversial plans to create a new statutory definition of “capacity to consent” to boost the conviction rate where a victim has been drinking.
Instead, after strong criticism from judges and lawyers, they are putting any changes on hold pending an appeal in the courts in two weeks’ time in which judges are expected to set out guidance about how courts should deal with consent in drink cases.
Any changes would then be tethered to what the Court of Appeal judges say. But these would almost certainly exclude a new statutory definition of consent after widespread condemnation of the plan this year by the Council of Circuit Judges.
The moves come as lawyers and women’s groups meet at separate conferences today to debate proposed reforms.
Women Against Rape, holding a conference in London on rape and domestic violence today, is strongly opposed to lifting a complainant’s anonymity.
In a recent letter to the Attorney-General, Lord Goldsmith, QC, signed by some 50 groups and individuals, the organisation criticised as a “deeply retrograde step” the case last autumn. It added that it was “part of the creation of a social and legal climate in which women who report rape can regularly be discredited and even prosecuted, discouraging women from coming forward”.
The group points to the falling conviction rate in rape cases — about 5.7 per cent of all reported cases — saying that it is “so low that men who are convicted consider themselves not guilty but unlucky”.
The Criminal Bar Association, representing 4,000 barristers, holds a seminar today on the law on rape. It is strongly against most of the proposals, saying there is no need for a new definition of consent to make clear when a woman is too drunk to say “no”.