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Yesterday saw two maiden speeches delivered during the debate about anonymity for those accused of rape, which I covered here this morning.
Earlier in the week we covered Aidan Burley’s famous victory in Cannock Chase at the general election. Yesterday, he spoke in the debate as a newly elected member of the home affairs select committee:
“Let us not beat about the bush here: a false allegation of rape can ruin a man’s life. Even if he is tried in a court of law and found not guilty, he will still remain suspect in many people’s eyes. It is human nature to say that there is no smoke without fire, especially, it would seem, when it comes to the thorny issue of rape. It is virtually impossible for a man to survive an accusation of rape without a stain remaining on his character. There will always be whispers and rumours and slurs.
“To me, what this debate is about is very simple: it is about avoiding punishment before, and sometimes without, trial. That is why I welcome this debate on the Government’s proposals to grant anonymity to defendants in rape cases. For me, anonymity only until trial is not enough, because the principle of no smoke without fire still applies. Surely all hon. Members will accept the principles of equality before the law and equality between men and women. Surely all hon. Members also believe that people are innocent until they are proven guilty.
“The legal situation that exists now protects women in rape trials, but it does not protect men. It gives women anonymity, but not men. A special legal exemption has been made in the case of rape, but why has it been made just for those making the accusation? Why does that same protection not apply to those who are being accused? If we are singling out this particular area of the criminal justice system for special treatment, why should it not apply equally to both men and women? Male defendants should be afforded the same protections as women making the accusations because every man is innocent until he is proven guilty. If women need anonymity for this particular type of case, so do men.
“We would all agree that men who are convicted of rape should have their names made public. Convicted rapists should be known and should face the consequences of their actions in respect of public opinion towards them. All that the Government’s proposals mean is simply that a man will face those social penalties after he has been convicted of the offence rather than facing advanced trial by others who will always think that there is no smoke without fire. In high-profile cases, this will also avoid trial by media in advance of trial by court.”
Also making his Commons debut was Rehman Chishti, the new MP for Gillingham and Rainham, who was able to speak from a barrister’s perspective:
“The effect on those falsely accused of serious sexual offences by the publication of their names and the revelation of their identities in the media can have long-term and far-reaching disastrous unintended consequences. In April, a taxi driver who worked for a firm in my constituency was cleared of rape at Maidstone Crown court. The story had been reported on the front page of the Medway Messenger , the largest circulating local newspaper in the area. It was only on the day of the trial—months later—with the defendant waiting in anguish, that the two supposed victims admitted that they had made up and falsely invented the serious allegation in order to avoid having to pay a taxi fare. They were later jailed for two years. The consequences for the wrongly accused defendant have been nothing short of disastrous as a result of the publication of his identity in the media. The concept of “mud sticks” is alive and kicking. He and others like him in the future deserve some measure of protection, as I believe we still have a system of justice in this country, of which we are justly proud, in which the accused is innocent until proved guilty on conviction by his peers. If safeguards are required to re-enforce that in sexual offences cases until conviction, in order to balance these competing interests, they should be put in place as a matter of urgency.
“I immediately acknowledge the arguments in favour of the publication of the identities of those accused of serious sexual offences, such as that that might encourage others to come forward. However, that approach does fly in the face of the presumption of innocence and presumes that anyone accused has done this before. We should examine the statistics carefully in trying to balance these crucial and diametrically opposed interests. Neither should be sacrificed in the interests of the other without the most careful consideration.
“Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 has served us well in relation to the publication of the name, address or any other particulars calculated to lead to the identification of any child or young person who is involved in criminal proceedings, including those on sexual offences. A court has complete discretion to hear anybody in support of or in opposition to an application pursuant to the section and consideration should be given to the extension of it automatically to include all those accused of serious sexual offences, allowing a judge to lift such a restriction in appropriate cases until conviction. A restriction until charge does not go far enough, as the test for charging is a “reasonable prospect of conviction” and thus far lower than the standard required for conviction by a jury.
“In other words, we should trust our judiciary to maintain the balance in any case, having carefully considered the competing arguments. We must also do everything we can to bring to justice those who commit such serious crimes.”