DPP backs anonymity for defendants in sex cases

By Robert Verkaik, Legal Affairs Correspondent The Independent
12 January 2001

The law should be changed to grant anonymity to people accused of rape and child abuse, the Director of Public Prosecutions believes.

While David Calvert-Smith's comments fall short of a direct call for such a move, his views have enraged women's groups and reopened a debate among the legal profession as to whether defendants in sex cases should have the same protection as their alleged victims.

Asked whether he would support a change in the law Mr Calvert-Smith, head of the Crown Prosecution Service, said: "I would certainly not oppose such a proposal... It would not make the life of a prosecutor any more difficult, and a case could be made [for granting anonymity until conviction] for those accused of rape or other sexual offences like child abuse which is just as damaging to a person."

By making it clear that conviction rates in rape cases currently running at about 10 per cent of all complaints would not be affected by giving anonymity to defendants, Mr Calvert-Smith has removed the main obstacle to change.

A spokesman for the CPS said yesterday that cases such as those involving Mick Hucknall, the singer with the band Simply Red, had raised the profile of the issue. Mr Hucknall was arrested by Surrey police after being falsely accused of rape in November.

The acquittal last month of David Jones, the former manager of Southampton Football Club, who was charged with child abuse, also prompted calls for the identity of defendants to be protected until an offence had been proved.

Groups representing rape victims said they were angered by Mr Calvert-Smith's comments. A spokeswoman for Women Against Rape said: "The consequence of being accused of any serious crime can be devastating. We are against a special case where men accused of rape are singled out for special protection."

She said women needed protection because rape was a "unique" crime and they would not come forward to report rape without it.

She said Mr Calvert-Smith's comments would send the wrong signals to rapists.

The Labour MP Robin Corbett, chairman of the Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, welcomed the DPP's comments. Mr Corbett, who helped introduce a 1976 Act which granted anonymity to alleged rapists as well their victims, said: "It appears clear to me if you give the victim anonymity then you should also give it to the accused up until conviction."

He added that an acquittal was not enough to repair the damage to the reputation ofa person accused of rape or other sex crimes.

He said the right to anonymity had been "given away" in 1988 when the Conservatives gave the media the freedom to identify those accused of rape.

The Law Society said yesterday that it was time the law was reviewed. Malcolm Fowler, chairman of the society's criminal law committee, said there was a "powerful argument" under the Human Rights Act for named defendants to claim, in cases where the complainant was not identified, that their rights had been breached.

Article six of the European Convention on Human Rights gave defendants the right to an impartial trial, he said, and identifying one party and not the other might create a perception of unfairness.

Stephen Kramer QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, agreed that a change in the law merited "serious consideration".

A Home Office spokesman said ministers were "aware of the concern" but had no plans to change the law at the present.

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