Change in rape law 'might deter real complaints'

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

A new law to grant anonymity to accused rapists might deter women from making genuine complaints of rape, Ann Widdecombe, the shadow Home Secretary, said yesterday.

Her comment clashed with the view of the Director of Public Prosecutions, David Calvert-Smith QC, who supported a possible change. He had said a case could be made for the limited protection of the identity of accused rapists and alleged child abusers. He would not stand in the way of a change.

But Miss Widdecombe said: "There may be a case for looking at a change but we must also recognise there have been convictions that might not have happened if the defendant had not been publicly identified."

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on home affairs, said a woman's anonymity in rape cases was the exception to the general rule of openness in court and further exceptions should be "treated with caution".

Michael Schwartz, the solicitor who represented Mick Hucknall, the lead singer with the band Simply Red, when he was being investigated for a false allegation of rape last year, said there was a clear case for changing the law now because men also deserved the "benefit of anonymity".

He added: "The slur of being accused of rape stays with you a long time ... and the scope for mischief-making follows from a lack of anonymity."

Mary Cunneen, associate director of the civil rights group Liberty, said: "The principle of open justice requires that defendants in rape and child abuse cases should be treated no differently to defendants in any other criminal case. But the stigma that remains attached to people who are acquitted has to be a major concern."

The Home Office said the Government was committed to open justice and was aware of concerns about false rape allegations. But ministers were not planning a change in law

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