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Baroness Walmsley: I support the group of amendments spoken to by my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford. They set out clearly a range of serious offences and label them in a way of which I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, would approve and that would be understood by the general public at large. The amendments would give the courts the tools that they need to prosecute the guilty and give them an appropriate sentence.
I cannot compete with noble and learned Lords in your Lordships' House or with noble Lords who are also learned. I speak just as a woman who, like most women, has at some time feared that one day I could be raped, as can any woman. I considered the group of amendments we are discussing with those thoughts in mind. I believe that rape is rape. I also believe that if the person who is raped knows the rapist that is even worse as it constitutes an abuse of trust. I am satisfied that the set of offences so clearly described by my noble
The purpose of the group of amendments is not to propose anything that changes our belief that rape is rape, whether or not the victim knows the rapist. However, they lay down a clear framework of law which will give the courts the tools for which the noble Baroness, Lady Mallalieu, has called and will achieve the objective of getting sound convictions of those who are genuinely guilty of rape. I believe that the amendments to which my noble friend has spoken will achieve that objective. That is why I support them.
I hope that members of victim support groups who have considered my noble friend's amendments carefully will agree that their purpose is clear and that they would achieve what we all want; that is, genuine convictions of genuine rapists and an avoidance of unsound convictions.
Lord Campbell-Savours: The more I listened to the debate on Second Reading and the more I listen to this debate, the more I am convinced that the whole Bill should have been subject to prior scrutiny. There are areas of the Bill which any reasonable person listening to the debate must recognise will lead to difficulties in the courts.
The proposals to which the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has just spoken clearly provide for a much simpler arrangement which would be far more easily handled by juries, would be far more popular with the legal profession and in my viewI am not a lawyerwould undoubtedly lead to more convictions of people who are guilty and to the release of more people who are innocent.
The Government set up a working party which produced a report following a joint inquiry into the investigation and prosecution of cases involving allegations of rape. The report was produced jointly by the Crown Prosecution Service and Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and was published in April last year. Why is it that in its 98 pages it never managed to address the issues we are discussing? The original remit made absolutely clear that it was to consider the high level of acquittal in rape cases. The remit is quite specific and states:
When it should have considered the question of the crime itself, it had absolutely nothing to say in all its 98 pages. Furthermore, in the Government's response, the Action plan to implement the recommendations of the HMCPSI/HMIC joint investigation into the investigation and prosecution of cases involving allegations of rape, we find no reference whatever to the question of the crime.
Why did those who were appointed to deal with those matters fail to address that absolutely central issue? I can only presume that it was because of political correctness. I am sorry to say it, but I see no other possible explanation. The project steering group had representatives from the Crown Prosecution Service, the medical profession, the Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Civil Service, policemen, the world of academia, assault and forensic centres and representatives of victims. However, there were no lawyers on the steering committee that conducted the inquiry, nor were there any representatives of juries. I do not know the name of the organisation that represents juries, but why were juries not represented? Why were they not asked why they believed that there was a high level of acquittal? I am sure that many of the arguments that we are having today would have surfaced, and would have been addressed in the course of the inquiry.
We are about to produce legislation that will not work because it has not been fully considered. Will the Government, even at this late stage, take on board all the comments made today by all the eminent members of the legal profession? They are supported outside by great numbers of people, who are watching our proceedings and saying that we are making fools of ourselves in the way in which we conduct our business on these matters. My noble and learned friend has clearly mastered the Bill and understands it in detail, but he must reassure the House. He must tell us why he believes that there will be an increase in the rate of convictions and a reduction in the rate of acquittals. We need absolute assurances that that will happen and be told in detail why he believes that it will happen.
In that recommendation, we may have the embryo of a report that might be used by Parliament in future in considering these matters. However, that is true only as long as those who draw up these comments and include them in these reports are prepared to talk about deficiencies in the law itself, particularly in relation to how juries treat rape. In a Question last November, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Ackner, described cases of date rape in which juries would not be prepared to reach a verdict of rape.
Baroness Noakes: I should like first to comment on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, on pre-legislative scrutiny. We on these Benches, and I believe also those on the Liberal Democrat Benches, believe that that would have been an appropriate way to treat this Bill. As the noble Lord said, the further we proceed with this Committee, the more evident that fact will become. I tell the noble and learned Lord that it is not too late.
I turn to Amendment No. 8, which was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. I pay tribute to him for the extremely thoughtful way in which he approached this matter. He made an extremely impressive speech on Second Reading and we should be grateful to him now for his innovative approach. I am particularly attracted by the simplicity of that approach. I cannot tell him that we accept completely the nature of the amendment. I shall not presume to comment on the legal qualities of the new clausethat would be above my pay gradebut I should like to comment on a couple of aspects.
In particular, I think that we are concerned about creating a lesser offence of rape and sexual violation. We would find it difficult to support the introduction by the back dooror indeed the front doorof a date rape offence. We accept, as was found in Setting the Boundaries, that acquaintance rape is just as serious for the victim as stranger rape. It is therefore difficult to believe that the right approach would be to treat it as a lesser offence. If there were a lesser offence, a seven-year maximum sentence would also begin to seem particularly low.
As for the other major issue, we return to our old friend reasonableness. When I saw first Amendment No. 8, I was not clear whether it proposed an objective test or a subjective test. However, the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, has explained that it is an objective/subjective test. Every noble Lord asserts with great conviction that their particular version can be put to a jury. Those of us not accustomed to putting matters to a jury find it difficult to say whose version of how to present matters would be most easily understood and workable. I put that question mark over that aspect of the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Thomas.
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