HC Deb 30 July 1974 vol 878 cc498-500

4.12 p.m.

Mr. F. P. Crowder (Ruislip-Northwood)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to provide anonymity for victims of illegal rape in criminal cases except by direction of the Court. In particular I draw attention to the last six words of the motion— except by direction of the court because from time to time in cases of rape it would be of assistance to the defence for the name and address of the alleged victim to be published. We know only too well that Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and that there are women who, out of spite and venom, will quite unjustly and wrongfully accuse persons of having raped them. It often happens that they do it not once but twice, and if such information comes to the knowledge of the defence and the defence feels it right and proper that it should be disclosed in the newspapers counsel can make application to the court and it will be within the discretion of the sitting judge to decide whether the victim's name should be published.

I hope that this is not a controversial measure. Hon. Members will recall not so long ago in the Eastern Counties a case which received tremendous publicity. It involved a lady following a distinguished career on the stage who alleged that she was raped by a police officer. She was subjected to publicity of the strongest possible kind and I am happy to say that her courage in coming forward in the way she did was reflected by the jury, who found the police officer guilty.

One statistic we do not know is the number of people who are victims of rape but who, because they do not wish to face the publicity not only perhaps in the national Press but in their local papers, refuse to come forward and give a statement to the police with all that that involves. I say that advisedly because in the first instance they have to go to the police station and make a statement. In a case of that sort they must undergo long and careful interrogation. Then, if Section 1 of the 1967 Act is not invoked, they can be told to appear at the magistrates' court. The woman will probably have to spend half a day waiting for the case to come on and then be subjected to cross-examination. Three or four months later when the matter comes be-before a judge and jury at assize she finds herself once more in the witness box.

In most cases where only one person is involved the defence is nearly always one of consent. That is an instance of a perfectly innocent lady having to answer the most outrageous allegations against her virtue. That in itself is an unpleasant experience, but then to see these allegations placarded in the Press only adds insult to injury and cannot assist the needs of justice in any way.

Generally speaking, cases of rape fall into three or possibly four categories. First, there is the case of rape involving a number of young men. There is the case where one young man or an older man uses the threat of violence or violence with a knife or a gun. Then there are cases which should perhaps never come before courts. They happen in this way. A young lady returns home in the early hours of the morning. Her mother is waiting up because she is anxious about her daughter. The young lady's appearance is dishevelled, and if it happens in the summer months she may have a certain amount of straw attached to her. The mother proceeds to interrogate the girl who bursts into tears and says she has been raped. The father is awakened and he rushes off to the police station. There the wheels of the criminal law start to turn and there is no stopping them.

I repeat that generally speaking where innocent single victims are concerned the defence is one of consent with all that that involves for the person in the witness box. I do not see that the ends of justice can in any way be assisted by that person's name, reputation and sometimes professional career being placarded before the general public. If the defence is successful on the basis that there might have been consent, if the jury feels there is reasonable doubt and they cannot say with the certainty which the law requires that the defendant is guilty he is acquitted. For ever after, that unfortunate victim will have a finger pointed at her and people will say, "Of course she consented" and her reputation is ruined.

I hope that the Bill will not be opposed, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. F. P. Crowder, Mrs. Jill Knight and Mr. Maurice Edelman.