Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


COMMONS AMENDMENTS
[The page and line refer to HL Bill 128 as first printed for the Commons.]
COMMONS AMENDMENT

1Clause 2, Leave out Clause 2

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.

13 Nov 2003 : Column 1606

We recognise the difficulties associated with this area of law. Being accused of a sex offence often carries with it a great social stigma, and the adverse publicity that often results from being linked to such an allegation can have serious consequences for a person's status and reputation in the community, employment and sense of self-worth. Amendment No. 1 leaves out the clause introduced by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, at Lords Report which gave defendants in rape and other cases the same right to anonymity as that enjoyed by the defendants.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1.—(Baroness Scotland of Asthal.)


    Clause 2, The Lord Ackner rose to move, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment 1, at end insert "but do propose the following amendment in lieu of the words so left out of the Bill—


1AClause 2, Insert the following new Clause— "Disclosure of matter likely to identify defendant


In section 1 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, after subsection (3) insert— "(3A) Where a person ("the defendant") is accused of an offence to which this Act applies, no matter likely to lead members of the public to identify the defendant as the person by whom the offence is alleged to have been committed shall during the defendant's lifetime be included in any publication unless the defendant has been convicted of the offence.""

The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, I express my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, who provided at my request this particular drafting of my amendment in lieu. My original draft had to be done in a hurry, but it served its purpose. My amendment reads as follows:


    "Disclosure of matter likely to identify defendant

In section 1 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, after subsection (3) insert— '(3A) Where a person ("the defendant") is accused of an offence to which this Act applies, no matter likely to lead members of the public to identify the defendant as the person by whom the offence is alleged to have been committed shall during the defendant's lifetime be included in any publication unless the defendant has been convicted of the offence.'" Amendments Nos. 1B and 1C—tabled respectively by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford—although using different language, point to the contrast with my amendment. Instead of giving anonymity to the defendant right up until conviction or acquittal, they say that he should have anonymity only so long as he has not been charged.

I shall submit to your Lordships that that is quite inadequate because the period between charging and trial is the vital period. It is in that time that newspapers get to work and a defendant's life can be rendered utterly miserable.

I should point out that when I tabled my amendment, which provided that anonymity should last until the defendant was convicted or acquitted, I had the support of both the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of

13 Nov 2003 : Column 1607

Gresford. I remind your Lordships of the substance of the debate on this matter on Report. I pointed out that the anonymity which I sought had been granted by Section 6 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976 and enjoyed for some 12 years until Section 158 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 withdrew it.

The noble and learned Lord the Lord Chancellor referred to the Heilbron committee report which ante-dated the 1976 Act. It suggested that it was not right to select out sexual offences concerning anonymity for the defendant, although it recommended and achieved anonymity for the complainant. Her approach was not adopted by Parliament in the 1976 Act; and it is interesting to note that one of the strongest proponents of anonymity was the noble Lord, Lord Ashley.

On Report I said:


    "The Government's cri de coeur has been that we must adjust any imbalance that exists between complainant and defendant in criminal trials".—[Official Report, 2/6/03; col. 1084.]

I hope noble Lords will have noted that I used the word "complainant". I am averse to using the word "victim" because that reverses the whole onus of proof and presupposes that the complainant has already shown the validity of her complaint, which of course she has not.

I was supported by a number of noble Baronesses. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was the first speaker in my favour. She said:


    "My Lords, from these Benches"—

I underline the word "Benches"—


    "we support the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. We strongly believe in equality under the law".

She went on to say that she raised the subject at Second Reading because of her conviction that,


    "we are to be seen to be as fair to the defendant as we are to the complainant".

She recalled the Minister's response:


    "'Well, if rapists; why not murders or shoplifters?'".—[Official Report, 2/6/03; cols. 1085–86.]

The difference is quite important and has been overlooked by the Government. It is that that we live in a society that is obsessed with sex. As a result the publicity given to a person accused of a sexual offence occupies front page space whereas that dealing with murderers and shoplifters—unless of course little children are concerned with murders—receives very much back page response.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who also supported me, said in terms:


    "In recent cases involving Mr John Leslie and Mr and Mrs Neil Hamilton, they were subjected to appalling adverse publicity with no charges pressed. But there are people who will always say, "There is no smoke without fire". The intention behind the amendment is wholly laudable. I hope that the Government will say that they are prepared to consider introducing a provision to deal with the issue both pre-charge and during the course of a case, once it is decided to press a charge".—[Official Report, 2/6/03; col. 1087.]

The noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, who has enormous experience in trials involving sexual offences, said in terms that she thought that it was clear

13 Nov 2003 : Column 1608

that some protection was needed for those who are not subsequently charged, as well as defendants awaiting trial. She said at col. 1088:


    "That is a real problem. As noble Lords have said, whether or not there is ultimately a charge, reputations are wrongly ruined and a great deal of suffering is caused".

The noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, whom I hope will remain faithful—in a forensic sense of the term—to me, said that she hoped that the Minister would take the amendment away and even consider anonymity beyond the point of charge. She preferred that amendment to that which provided anonymity only up to charge. She continued:


    "Some men in such situations are driven not just to the point of, but to actual, suicide. I cannot think of anything more dreadful to someone who is completely innocent and vexatiously charged with such a serious offence than having to live through the kind of publicity that goes with it. We should not underestimate the effect of that".—[Official Report, 2/6/03; col. 1088.]

Not long ago, on the Isle of Wight, a suicide case received a great deal of publicity. The explanation was that the person concerned, although protesting his innocence, could not stand the stress and strain of the publicity.

I also pray in aid the support of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chester, who considered the arguments for anonymity only up to charge and for anonymity right up until the court's decision. He said:


    "On balance, the argument comes down in favour of granting the same rights of anonymity in principle to those who are accused".—[Official Report, 2/6/03; col. 1089.]

Later he said:


    "My Lords, the noble and learned Lord referred to the guidance issued last November"—

that is the guidance to the police not to provide any information until charge. He continued:


    "Soon after that a well-known entertainer, Matthew Kelly, was dragged through the papers in an unfortunate way. He was dragged from his pantomime performance and it was in the press within five minutes. This was on the back of the guidance being issued. I happen to know this because my wife is involved in charitable affairs in my diocese. I know the impact on him and his family. Unless the guidance the Association of Chief Police Officers has issued is given some teeth, it is not worth the paper it is written on".—[Official Report, 2/6/03; col. 1094.]

Those are excerpts from our debate.

If your Lordships are persuaded, as you should be, that the media, with the sexual obsession that nowadays enters all aspects of society, treats publicity for sexual offences so differently from the publicity accorded to offences even more serious, there is a whole justification for singling out the defendant and allowing him to have the same anonymity as that provided, which we all agree should be provided, to the complainant. I beg to move.

Moved, as an amendment to the Motion that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 1, at end insert Amendment No. 1A in lieu of the words so left out of the Bill.—(Lord Ackner.)

5.45 p.m.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, this group includes Amendment No. 1B, which stands in my name. It proposes a different anonymity in cases involving

13 Nov 2003 : Column 1609

sexual offences. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, pointed out, my amendment proposes anonymity running only until a defendant has been charged.

We debated the issue in your Lordships' House on Report, what seems almost half a lifetime ago. The case was made forcibly then that defendant anonymity in rape cases throughout the process could prevent other victims of rape or sexual offences coming forward. That was a very powerful point, which, on reflection, has led these Benches to propose the variant of pre-charge anonymity. We do not believe that justice would be served sufficiently by total anonymity for defendants as proposed in the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner.

My amendment and that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, allow publicity to ensue once the police have established that there is a case to answer and to charge the individual. But if there is not enough evidence to warrant a charge, publicity of any kind would be against the law. The Minister will argue that sexual offences should be treated no differently from other serious offences, such as murder, where defendant anonymity does not apply. But, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, has already pointed out, society is obsessed with sex, and for that reason, a particular social stigma is attached to those accused of sexual crimes. The celebrity cases that we debated when we discussed the issue previously are very pertinent and reputations have been damaged unnecessarily.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, whose legal abilities are infinitely superior to mine, tells me that his amendment is superior to mine. Both amendments are directed at granting anonymity pre-charge, but the precise wording of each differs. Given that I am surrounded by very eminent lawyers, as a mere accountant, I am extremely humbled and bow to all their legal expertise. I did, however, put one non-lawyer's question to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, yesterday. I asked him why his amendment, unlike mine and that of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, had no prescribed penalty. I think that I managed the beginner's luck of scoring a bull's eye. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, will address that point when he speaks to his amendment.

The Minister may argue, as did her honourable friend Mr Goggins in another place, that serious discussions are in train between the Home Office, the police and the media to try to find a solution based on self-regulation. I am sure that if a self-regulatory solution could be found and made to stick, that would be the most satisfactory way forward. But I hope that the Minister will forgive the touch of cynicism on these Benches, as the plain fact is that sex sells and the pressures on a self-regulatory system would be very intense.

I hope that the Minister will be able to accept pre-charge anonymity for defendants in sexual offences cases. In accepting that, it need not imply early commencement. Indeed, we would be more than happy if the Government did not commence a new section to deal with the issue if that was the result of

13 Nov 2003 : Column 1610

a self-regulatory system that actually worked. But we believe that the offence as set out in my amendment or that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, should be available to the Government in case their discussions break down or if a future self-regulatory system breaks down.

Let me conclude by saying for the guidance of my noble friends that we do not support the amendment tabled by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner. As between my amendment and that of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, I am persuaded that his formulation of the offence is preferable, subject to the issue that I have raised concerning the penalty. Subject to that point, which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, intends to address, I shall advise my noble friends to support Amendment No. 1C.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page