Should Rape Suspects be granted anonymity?

During the past week most people will have read or heard that the Coronation Street actor, Michael Le Vell, has been acquitted of various sex offence against a child.  This, once again, raises the question as to whether suspects in such cases should be granted anonymity, in the same way that are.

Michael Levell “lived two years of absolute hell” due to the publicity of his case, supporting the view that the effects of being publicly named are colossal.

During Michael Le Vell’s Trial he told the jury he was “fighting for his life”.  Other defendants accused of serious sex offences have also stated that the experience has had a devastating impact upon the rest of their lives.

There has been much debate over the years as to whether suspects in sex abuse or rape cases should be granted anonymity and it is an issue that sharply divides opinion.

It was only in 1976 that the government granted anonymity to rape defendants.  However, the law was changed in 1988 and that protection was removed.

A further change to the law to give rape suspects anonymity was supported by the Liberal Democrats in 2006.  In 2010 the issue was raised again in the coalition agreement.  However, the pledge to introduce anonymity for rape suspects until conviction was discontinued due to the fact that Ministers claimed there was insufficient evidence to justify a change to the law.

Ministers said they had examined various key areas in relation to anonymity, including the primary argument against this, that the publicity of a person’s name often encourage other victims of abuse, or even witnesses to an offence, to report matters to the Police.

Those who support a change in the law to provide rape suspects with anonymity include Maura McGowan QC, chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales, claim that a change is necessary due to the stigma carried by being accused of sexual offences.  Maura McGowan QC has also said that “once the defendant is convicted then of course everything should be open to scrutiny and to the public.”

Stephen Cooper was wrongly convicted of sexual offences 25 years ago and backs anonymity for defendants until the point of conviction.  Mr Cooper now runs a website called:  falselyaccused.co.uk.

One of the arguments in favour of providing anonymity to rape suspects is to protect people those complainants who make false allegations.  However, Keir Starmer, Director of Public Prosecutions, stated in March 2013 that it was a “misplaced belief” that false accusations of rape are commonplace.

Alex Brew, spokeswoman for rape charity Women Against Rape, has argued that anonymity for rape suspects would be “the end of open justice and it is, in fact, the rape victim who is being failed by the justice system”.  Ms Brew is also concerned that, whilst an increasing number of rape victims are reporting the crime, investigations are being discontinued and cases closed prior to all of the evidence being gathered.

Contrary to the views of Maura McGowan QC, Ms Brew believes that rape is no more stigmatised than murder or terrorism and that giving only rape defendants anonymity marks rape out as being different from other crimes.

The charity, Rape Crisis, is opposed to anonymity being given to rape defendants as they are of the view that this would discourage people from reporting sex crimes and “victimise victims further”.”

Solicitor Nick Freeman is of the view that even after someone has been cleared of rape or other sex abuse charges, there will always be some people believing that “there’s no smoke without fire”.

Mr Freeman believes that when cases of alleged sexual offences are pending both the defendant (accused) and the complainant (victim) should be granted anonymity, with the provision for a Judge to make an application, if considered appropriate, for the anonymity of the defendant to be waived if the suspect is thought to be a serial offender or there is a hope other victims or witnesses may come forward.  A suggestion such as this might, perhaps, go some way towards mitigating the concerns raised by the Charity, Rape Crisis, in respect of their opposition to anonymity for rape victims.

The Association of Chief Police Officers have confirmed that the “welfare of rape victims needs to remain a priority”.  The Association’s main concern is that of the impact that any changes on anonymity would have on victims, especially if this affects their confidence to come forward and report rape or abuse.

It is likely that argument on both sides of this debate will continue for many years.

If you have been accused of rape and/or any other crime, do not hesitate to contact Emery Johnson Astills Criminal Department who will be able to provide you with expert advice, assistance and representation.