HC Deb 22 January 1998 vol 304 cc1142-4
33. Mr. Campbell-Savours

If officials in his Department saw papers in relation to the prosecution of Mr. Owen Oyston. [22335]

The Attorney-General


Mr. Campbell-Savours

This is a very difficult case to raise because we are talking about a rape trial where the victim and the witness for the defence were teenage girls, and the prosecution hinged on their evidence.

Can my right hon. and learned Friend tell me whether he thinks it fair that, under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976, a victim should have total anonymity and be protected from cross-questioning as to her character when the witness in the defence, as happened in this particular case, is subject to very close questioning as to her character? Indeed, her whole previous life is laid bare as part of the prosecution's case. Are we seeing natural justice when cases are conducted in that way?

The Attorney-General

My hon. Friend has put very carefully the matters that I know are of concern to him. He is right to refer to the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976. It is a matter for the judge whether he gives anyone leave to ask questions regarding the victim. The test will be that he will grant leave only if he is satisfied that it would be unfair to the defendant to refuse to allow such evidence. As regards a witness and whether questions about previous sexual experience should be allowed, that is also a matter for the judge. As regards the 1976 Act, it was brought up to date in 1994.

I am also concerned about anonymity. The anonymity of complainants in cases of rape and other specified sexual offences is protected from the time of the complaint, whereas the current legal position does not prevent media identification of juvenile offenders before the point of charge. However, the effectiveness of these provisions, when set against the increasing use of global information technology and publications outside the jurisdiction of the courts, is a matter of proper concern, and I am giving very careful consideration to it.

Returning to the gist of my hon. Friend's questions, if he has any new matters arising from the case to which he referred, these can be looked at by the Criminal Cases Review Commission.