Is Cameron backtracking on rape trials anonymity?


4:53 pm - June 2nd 2010

by Cath Elliott    


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I’ve just watched Cameron’s first Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons, where he said, when challenged by Harriet Harman over the proposals to grant anonymity to those accused of rape, that he “believed there was a case for it between arrest and charge.”

While I still don’t agree with the ConDem’s proposal, Cameron’s response appears to be a step back from the original “We will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants” statement that was made a couple of weeks ago.

I don’t know if this means that Cameron is now backtracking, but it certainly sounds like it.

Perhaps the outcry these plans have provoked is actually having some effect. If so, keep up the good work everyone.

To sign the petition click here

To see Fiona Mactaggart’s Early Day Motion (and get your MP to sign it) click here

And to read Vera Baird’s excellent Progress piece on why anonymity for rape defendants is an appalling idea, click here.

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About the author
Cath Elliott is a regular contributor. She is a feminist, a trade union activist, and a freelance writer and blogger. Also at: Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Crime ,Feminism ,Sex equality

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Reader comments


1. Sunder Katwala

Yes, I think its evidently quite a significant retreat, in response to campaigning pressure and noise on the issue, and a good thing too. Have blogged it here

http://www.nextleft.org/2010/06/coalition-finds-reverse-gear-on-rape.html

1. Cameron clearly lacked enthusiasm for the policy – “the Coalition Agreement mentions this issue of anonymity” – and there is every indication they are both surprised at the reaction and not much up for a fight with women’s groups about it.

2. Pre-charge anonymity is different from the Agreement proposal about “defendants”, and he was clearly looking for consensus on the possibility of a limited change as a way out of a confrontation over the issue.

3. Most importantly, Cameron has now personally made the test of the proposals whether they will increase the shamefully low conviction rate. Clearly, having said that in his first ever PMQ’s, they could hardly now go back to pre-conviction anonymity.

What is now unclear to me is (i) how much difference pre-charge anonymity would make in practice to the current position (ii) what the remaining rationale is for specific proposals about rape in this respect (given that the rationalse for trial anonymity would be that victims have anonymity).

So one has to admire Cameron’s flexibility in preparing for a rapid retreat, though it does not suggest adequate . He has now changed policy several times on his feet (eg on pensioners eye tests in the debates). And it does suggest that (sometimes) the government will find it difficult to publicly defend a policy which can be shown to be at odds with progressive rhetoric.

2. TheException

Well, one possible answer to (i) is that the pre-charge anonymity won’t make much of a difference at all, since the period of lawful detention without charge is so short. The argument would be that if there is enough evidence for one charge to come to trial, then any other victims still have time to come forward during the intervening period, when the anonymity will no longer be applicable, with no real need for urgency.

But I suspect the real truth is that police are more likely to take the first victim seriously if the others come forward immediately, before a decision on charging is taken. So I remain troubled by the practical implications of the idea.

As for (ii), I’ve absolutely no idea – if it’s because your reputation shouldn’t be damaged over something you’ve not even been charged with, then why doesn’t this principle apply to all other crimes too? No, it’s a very weird business, all this, and makes me extremely anxious as to who it is that’s got the PM’s ear on this.

Most importantly, Cameron has now personally made the test of the proposals whether they will increase the shamefully low conviction rate.

In fact, the 58% conviction rate is relatively pretty good.

ukliberty: Yes, yes, we went through this all last time. The proportion of trials that result in a conviction is 58%, which is an almost meaningless figure since CPS guidance and discretion over which cases to prosecute means that any figure significantly different to 50% in either direction would be cause for concern.

The “non-attrition” rate of 6% is focused on because it’s really unpleasantly low for such a serious crime, and as the massive regional variations between police forces show, is in many areas symptomatic of failures pre-trial by the police and CPS. Many people call it the “conviction rate” because what else would you call “percentage of reports ending in conviction” if you weren’t familiar with (or didn’t find particularly useful) official government terminology.

I’ve not seen anyone comparing the 6% non-attrition rate to trial conviction rates for other crimes, which would be a meaningless comparision. What is said is that a 6% non-attrition rate is unacceptably low for such a serious offence.

cim,

Many people call it the “conviction rate” because what else would you call “percentage of reports ending in conviction” if you weren’t familiar with (or didn’t find particularly useful) official government terminology.

I think I’d look up what “conviction rate” usually means and use “conviction rate” with that meaning. I’d also qualify my comments about “conviction rate” with notes about what I’m actually talking about (something the Stern report advises, incidentally). And I’d talk about the attrition rate, too.

I might also find out that “the conviction rate of 6%” claim is inaccurate/unhelpful in another way, because while it is true that only 6% of rape complaints end in convictions of rape, it is not true that 94% of rape complaints result in no convictions at all.

What is said is that a 6% non-attrition rate is unacceptably low for such a serious offence.

It seems to me that not enough commenters say that sort of thing. And from there if I am not already familiar with “attrition rate” I will look it up. I will discover that the problems with rape and the criminal justice system are not confined to the courts but that there is actually a much larger problem than people tend to infer from the (mis)use of “conviction rate”. As you rightly say, there are “massive regional variations between police forces”, among other issues.

Let us say that the “attrition rate is shamefully high”. Anyone interested can easily find out what “attrition rate” means, if they do not already know (you can have a guess if you know what “attrition” means), and there is far more meaning in it than “conviction rate”.

I still think that “attrition rate” is probably unnecessary jargon (and *exactly* what the numerator and denominator are for that is hard to find out). Spelling it out exactly as “~6% of reports result in a conviction” is perhaps better.

it is not true that 94% of rape complaints result in no convictions at all.

Looking at the Home Office study (table 4.2), “part conviction” firstly makes up only a relatively small proportion of the total convictions anyway, and secondly seems to be included in the usual ~6% estimate.

Cim,

Spelling it out exactly as “~6% of reports result in a conviction” is perhaps better.

I agree.

Looking at the Home Office study (table 4.2), “part conviction” firstly makes up only a relatively small proportion of the total convictions anyway, and secondly seems to be included in the usual ~6% estimate.

I don’t recall what “part conviction” means.

I had in mind the figure of 6% of rape complaints that ultimately result in a conviction for a ‘lesser’ crime. This is IIRC in addition to the 6% of rape complaints that end in convictions for rape.

Actually, no backtrack. Here’s what Cameron said:

“On the issue of anonymity, I sat on the Home Affairs Committee that examined this issue; it was of course a Committee in a previous Parliament, dominated by Labour Members, and very ably chaired by Chris Mullin. We came to the conclusion that there was a case for saying that between arrest and charge there was a case for anonymity.”

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201011/cmhansrd/cm100602/debtext/100602-0002.htm#1006029000009

Oh, and as that committee that Cameron sat on pointed out, yes giving defendants anonymity means that it’s harder for other victims of those who have committed multiple rapes to come forward, BUT giving anonymity to those who accuse others of rape makes it harder for those who have been falsely accused in the past to come forward.

ukliberty: I thought “part conviction” covered convictions for lesser offences. It’s not explained in the paper, and I can’t find a legal dictionary, but that seems to be how its sometimes used in context.

Alex: “between arrest and charge” someone is not a defendant, but a suspect. (And also, based on 2000 ACPO guidance, has anonymity in almost all cases anyway already). He also says various things about considering it and debating it, rather than defending the proposal wholeheartedly. It’s quite a step back in both certainty and scope from “We will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants.”

Er, no. My point was that Cameron was talking about what a Committee he sat on proposed in 2003. It doesn’t mean that that is what he is proposing today and thus doesn’t constitute “backtracking”.

He may backtrack, but this is not evidence of that.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  3. AVA

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  4. The Partisan

    RT @nextleft: Cath Elliott on @libcon: Is Cameron backtracking on rape anonymity? http://bit.ly/cxg0cY < "a case between arrest and c …

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  7. Coventry Rape Crisis

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  8. Kate B

    Nice from Cath on rape anonymity. Cameron will back off if he's smart. Ish. http://bit.ly/bfBkUc

  9. Sunder Katwala

    Cath Elliott on @libcon: Is Cameron backtracking on rape anonymity? http://bit.ly/cxg0cY < "a case between arrest and charge" = maybe

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  11. Tories back away further on rape anonymity for defendants | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] follows recent statements by Cameron also backing away from initial plans. At a recent PMQs debate he said he “believed there was a case for it between arrest and […]





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