Opinion: From out of nowhere – rape anonymity extension

The full Coalition agreement, published this week, contained the following commitment:

We will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants.

(Section 20 “Justice”, page 24)

This issue wasn’t mentioned in either party’s manifesto; nor, I believe, during the election campaign. Neither was it something to which the previous Government aspired. It had been voted through at the Liberal Democrat annual conference in 2006, but allowed to lie dormant since. The Lords approved it as an amendment in 2003 but it went no further. As such, it’s a rather a bolt out of the blue.

In the not-too-distant past, there was no anonymity afforded to either side in a rape case. Then, in 1976, the Sexual Offences (Amendments) Act brought in reporting restrictions for both the claimant and defendant in a rape case. The situation changed 12 years later, after the Criminal Law Revision Committee recommended that defendant anonymity be lifted.

Since then, claimant anonymity has remained, although a judge can lift it in the public interest. A few high-profile cases have led to complaints that the situation is unfair; the Hamiltons in 2001, for instance; or Warren Blackwell in 2006. But such cases are few and far between, though they have of course been gleefully seized upon by the press.

The main reasons for changing the current situation can be broadly categorised as stigma and equality. Firstly, as loudly protested by the Hamiltons, an accusation of rape can lead to “life-destroying” effects, perhaps even if the verdict is not guilty or charges are never brought. Although that’s a reasonable point, it does come with an assumption that malicious allegations of rape are something other than very rare. Whereas, in fact, studies show that only 6 to 8 percent of rape allegations are false: strikingly, this rate is the same as in other types of crime. Also, if this argument were to hold water, the stigma suffered by an innocent rape defendant would need to be greater than that suffered by other defendants whose identities are also made public, for example in murder, fraud or child abuse trials. This seems highly doubtful.

Defendants have also pointed to the inequality inherent in the current system – an accuser is protected, while the accused is not – and say that this is clearly unfair. However, the comparison being made – i.e. between claimant & defendant – is perhaps not the right one. Instead, the rights of an alleged rapist could be compared with those of people facing other serious charges. Adults accused of murder, attempted murder, etc currently have no right to anonymity, so under this comparison the status quo appears equitable.

The fact that anonymity is only applied in very specific circumstances is part of the openness of the UK’s legal system, for the good of all. Exceptions are deliberately made as narrow as possible, and can be overturned even then, for example where anonymity might hamper a trial. Rape victims are treated as special cases with good reason: victims would be even less likely than they are now to report cases or progress to trial if they were named. Estimates of the number of rapes which lead to conviction are around 5 or 6 percent, so it’s surprising that a change to rape trial proceedings at this stage could be one that might only worsen the situation.

Karen Kruzycka is a Lib Dem member and activist in Romford.

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26 Comments

  • Excellent article – be interested as you are in knowing from whence / from whom this policy came.

    A few high profile malicious cases have arisen where its been shown that a ‘victim’ was making it up, but this doesn’t justify an approach which could jeopardise the already fragile approach to prosecuting these crimes with a very low success rate.

    One aspect which could be addressed is the way the press report these cases which can prejudice them – what about better guidance for the press on what should be said and when?

    What is positive about reporting crime is that it can bring forward witnesses and evidence which wasn’t considered before. A negative is that the press can prejudice the jury / the case and lead to injustice…

  • I’ll declare an interest here, in that a very good friend of mine was accused (but not charged) of rape a few years ago. His name was duly reported after he was arrested, in a very reasonable and passing way, by the local rag. Cue broken windows, dog shit through letterboxes, threatening letters etc etc.

    He was released after two days, after it was abundantly clear he was not responsible in any way. Of course, the local paper doesn’t report that. Everybody else moves on, and he is left with his good name besmirched and with physical and emotional consequences to deal with.

    I don’t know what the exact solution is, but I do know that the status quo is entirely unacceptable. It’s sad to say it, but people cannot handle waiting for a trial to cast judgment in sex cases.

  • Andrew Suffield 22nd May '10 - 5:48pm

    Whereas, in fact, studies show that only 6 to 8 percent of rape allegations are false

    No. Crime statistics show that in the UK, 9% of rape allegations are discovered to be false. (8% is the US figure)

    That does not mean only 9% are, just that we have 9% that we know for sure were lies. We can identify about 50% of allegations as not being lies, and nobody’s really sure what’s going on with the other 40% – but it’s unlikely that all of them are true, or that all of them are false.

    There have been no robust studies in this area, other than the crime statistics. There should be, but there aren’t.

    this doesn’t justify an approach which could jeopardise the already fragile approach to prosecuting these crimes with a very low success rate

    Indeed. “Innocent until proven guilty” is what justifies it, along with “better a hundred guilty men go free than an innocent man hang”. Also, the rate of conviction is about 50%, which isn’t very low. Don’t confuse that with the tabloid-favoured figure that includes cases dropped by the accuser (most of them) or rejected by the prosecutor (most of what’s left). Lastly, don’t confuse that with the success rate, which is 100%: all of the people who were not convicted are innocent, because they haven’t been proven guilty. Acquittal is not a “failure”. The objective of the justice system is not to perpetrate vile sexist prejudice that all men are rapists.

    Estimates of the number of rapes which lead to conviction are around 5 or 6 percent, so it’s surprising that a change to rape trial proceedings at this stage could be one that might only worsen the situation.

    Oh look, there goes the misleading tabloid headline again.

  • George W. Potter 22nd May '10 - 6:45pm

    Actually Pravin, women can’t commit rape in the yes of the law. What they can do is commit serious sexual assault which is treated exactly the same way as rape by the courts. Other than that pedantic note I agree with you completely.

  • This was voted through as Lib Dem policy in the past for good reason – like other Lib Dem policies, it is the right thing to do. Just because this has come from the blue doesnt mean it is the wrong thing to do.

  • There seems to be a lack of women commenting in this thread, so I thought I’d even things up a bit gender-wise, though I have little to add that hasn’t already been said by others. Except to be proud that LDV readers can discuss this in a civilised way without resorting to the usual hysteria.

    Of course this is an emotive issue, and I wholeheartedly support the anonymity for rape claimants for the simple reason that without it many would probably not come forward (more so than already don’t that is). But simple fairness dictates that the accused deserves the same protection. Sadly the “no smoke without fire” mentality of our society would leave an unjustified scar on the lives of many defendants even if found not guilty. On top of that, many rape cases don’t get to court, and saying “the charges were dropped” doesn’t prove your innocence in the eyes of many people.

    To be honest, I can see why that is, rape being one of those things that usually comes down to one person’s word against another’s, or in other words who can sound most plausible to a jury. Even if someone is acquitted, people may reason that they were just able to talk their way out of it. The other comment I’ve often heard is the insinuation that “he probably paid for a top lawyer to get him off”.

    Just being accused of rape, regardless of the outcome of the case, is often enough to leave a permanent stain on someone’s life, their work and even their personal relationships. I’m afraid that morally I just can’t stomach the idea that this is justified in the name of securing more convictions. I’d be surprised if many Lib Dems could support that – as evidenced by the 2006 conference motion.

  • Sorry to ramble on, but I meant to add that personally I’m not sure I buy the argument that granting defendants anonymity will decrease the number of rape convictions.

    I’m not any kind of expert, but I imagine that one of the reasons juries, prosecutors and even the police are reluctant to take alleged rape victims at their word is the lingering suspicion (probably unjustified in most cases) that maybe it’s just a case of an aggrieved ex-partner trying to exact some revenge. The fact that even the accusation can have the desired effect probably strengthens this suspicion. By granting anonymity, hopefully genuine rape claimants will be taken more seriously by all concerned.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 22nd May '10 - 11:39pm

    “That does not mean only 9% are, just that we have 9% that we know for sure were lies. We can identify about 50% of allegations as not being lies, and nobody’s really sure what’s going on with the other 40% – but it’s unlikely that all of them are true, or that all of them are false.”

    I commented on another thread that if a section of the population – to which Karen apparently belongs – assume that 95% of those accused of rape are guilty, regardless of whether they’re convicted or even tried, then that’s actually an argument in favour of those accused being given anonymity.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 11:45pm

    @Dave

    Agree with all of that. All defendants in all criminal cases should have anonymity. Innocent until found guilty.

  • Karen’s article of the situation lacks a considered analysis of the unfairness of the current position. Comparing rape allagations with murder and fraud is rather simplistic. The major difference is that rape allegations are brought by individuals who might have an axe to grind, whereas no person can be arrested on allegations of murder on the say so of another person. There is evidence that rape allegations can be malicious. Can this be said about murder allegations? The Hamiltons’ case is a good example of this. Despite the fact that there was no thread of evidence that they ever met their accuser, they were still arrested and spent time in a police station. If their accuser alleged that the Hamiltons had murdered someone my guess is they would never have made their way to a police station. To suggest that publicising details of people accused of rape will help solve more cases rather calls into question the basis of our justice system of innocence until proven guilty. Surely it is the job of the police to obtain any evidence and bring these before a court. Anonymity for both parties until the outcome of any court case is fair and more even handed.

  • mra stand up 23rd May '10 - 9:50am

    Sir Ian Blair wrote book in 1985, estimating that between 50 to 70% of rape cases in the UK were false accusations (and I suspect he was being a tad chivalrous, in underplaying the scale of the problem).

    Since 1985, the number of rape accusations has increased several fold, but the number of prosecutions has only increased by 15% or so. Since 1985, there have been great improvements in evidence gathering, including the use of DNA gathering, the proper widespread use of rape kits, better, more sympathetic and thorough police training, and a widening of behaviours which can now be categorized as rape, like spousal rape, and drunk rape, and yet despite this, the percentage of successful prosecutions has fallen from about one in four claims back then, to one in twenty claims now – this indicates there has been an epidemic of false rape claims.

    If I had to bet my life on it, I would estimate, from all the evidence I have seen, from studies around the world, and the political will to hide false rapes, and the police tactic of recording false rapes as ‘no crimes’, that the true percentage of false rape claims in the UK is between 65 to 85% of all claims made.

    Even if it was 85 or 90%, this would still mean some rapists were getting away with it – but if we want to have the resources to go after the real rapists, we should prosecute and fine those false accusers, the money going towards those falsely accused, and those actually raped. Psychotic women, who false accuse, are extremely calculating, so let’s give them some maths to think about. Divide 1000 hours of community service over the next two years, and pay 20% of wages over next 1000 weeks – they’ll soon behave themselves. Prison is too good for them, and too expensive for us.

    We hear again and again, about the ‘6%’ prosecution rate for rape, when more than 50% of actual trials end in prosecution.
    We never hear about the less than 1% prosecution rate for false accusers.

    Read the article about the BBC celebrity (anonymous) who made repeated false claims last year against her ex boyfriend – the police openly admitted they reported it as a ‘no crime’ – when blatantly, a crime of false allegation had taken place.

    Time to grow up, and it’s good to see the Lib Dems taking a step in the right direction.

    Do not bow to the professional victim-feminist lobbying groups with vested interests in perpetuating rape hysteria rather than reducing rape by addressing false claims properly.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 23rd May '10 - 11:20am

    this indicates there has been an epidemic of false rape claims.

    Or alternatively an increase in the number of true but unprovable claims.

    I think we have to be wary of claims by people on both sides of the argument that they know the “real” percentage of false claims. The problem is that in many cases only the people involved know the truth of the matter.

  • Firstly, as loudly protested by the Hamiltons, an accusation of rape can lead to “life-destroying” effects, perhaps even if the verdict is not guilty or charges are never brought. Although that’s a reasonable point, it does come with an assumption that malicious allegations of rape are something other than very rare.

    I must say I’m really disgusted. Karen Kruzycka is actually saying, that it is all right to destroy innocent people’s lives, because it is only “very rare”. This kind of people really shouldn’t be in the politics. I think it is enough that the identity of the guilty ones is revealed after they are verdicted. I don’t see why ms Kruzycka is in so much hurry to know their names that she doesn’t care about the basic human rights of the innocent ones.

  • How about this rule as a compromise?

    If the defendant is convicted then the accuser is entitled to anonymity no matter what. But if he is acquitted then the accuser must choose:

    (1) If she wishes to remain anonymous then the defendant is entitled to anonymity.
    (2) Alternatively she can repeat her accusation, in which case the defendant’s name can be publicized but the accuser loses her anonymity and is potentially liable for defamation.

  • Eden Mulliner 24th May '10 - 3:38pm

    Giving defendants anonymity will prevent other victims coming forward and make it harder to identify and convict serial rapists such as John Worboys.

  • George Kendall 24th May '10 - 8:34pm

    Just googled an interesting article from four years ago:
    http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=1719

    It quotes the co-founders of the Innocence Project:
    “Every year since 1989, in about 25 percent of the sexual assault cases referred to the FBI where results could be obtained, the primary suspect has been excluded by forensic DNA testing. Specifically, FBI officials report that out of roughly 10,000 sexual assault cases since 1989, about 2,000 tests have been inconclusive, about 2,000 tests have excluded the primary suspect, and about 6,000 have “matched” or included the primary suspect.”

    If it’s true, and I’m a little wary of relying on a Fox News journalist, then 20% of those accused were the wrong person, and with 20% the testing was indeterminate. The article points out that these statistics don’t mean that a rape did not occur, just that the wrong person was accused. With 60%, DNA showed the right person had been identified. But, of course, even with this group, there may be some who were involved in consensual sex, and were then wrongly accused of rape.

    On the surface, this seems to be quite compelling evidence that false accusation rates are a lot higher than commonly quoted . Anyone got any links that provide contrary evidence?

  • Awful, Awful Journalism.

    Please fact check your work. The statistic on the percentage of rapes false is wrong. The statistic on the percentage of rapes that are convicted is wrong. The suggestion that rape defendants get treated better than fraud or murder (admittedly okay in the case of child abuse/porn) is completely wild speculation that is probably incorrect. Murderers are feared and fraud cases usually don’t have a direct victim. Rape accused people are hounded as noted in the comments.

  • I was asking how you weighed up the suffering of the innocently accused and the suffering of rape victims when assessing this legislation. There is nothing here about the suffering of rape victims. That does answer my question at least.

  • nina phillips 16th Sep '10 - 11:27pm

    What is unfair is that , unlike the accused, who has his own barrister and lawyer and can discuss the best way to present his case, the rape victim is ostensibly just another witness and so afforded none of these priviledges. The defence barrister can make alll sorts of snide comments and raised eyebrows at her supposed promiscuity. When the victim is treated with the same dignity as the perpetrator OR as any other witness, THEN we can talk about anonimity for both.

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