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Cheers - AE

Saturday, 13 November 2010

Equality before the Law.

Not applicable for men.
The Government has abandoned its pledge to grant anonymity to men charged with rape in England and Wales.
It was one of those many pledges which I had little hope for, particularly as the voices decrying the low rate of conviction for rape are pretty loud. To politicians they probably seem even louder when they're in government than they did in opposition.
Justice Minister Crispin Blunt said there was not sufficient evidence to justify the move.
The decision to scrap the proposal, which was included in the Government's coalition agreement in May, follows criticism from women's groups.
Told ya.
Mr Blunt said: "The Coalition Government made it clear from the outset that it would proceed with defendant anonymity in rape cases only if the evidence justifying it was clear and sound, and in the absence of any such finding it has reached the conclusion that the proposal does not stand on its merits.
"It will not, therefore, be proceeded with further."
He went on: "The assessment has found insufficient reliable empirical evidence on which to base an informed decision on the value of providing anonymity to rape defendants.
Never mind the wittering about evidence and fucking value. What about the very real damage that spurious accusations can and do have on innocent men - the unlucky ones who are convicted or remanded occasionally becoming prison rape victims themselves - simply because, like any other criminal case, the accused is routinely identified but uniquely the accuser always has anonymity if desired?
"Evidence is lacking in a number of key areas, in particular, whether the inability to publicise a person's identity will prevent further witnesses to a known offence from coming forward..."
I suspect there's also a lack of evidence as to whether the inability to publicise the accuser's identity will prevent potential defence witnesses coming forward. What if an accuser has made false claims which are known to associates but, because of an unwise decision to point the finger at someone with a ready and rock solid alibi that was known to all, never went as far as any police involvement? Those people might volunteer that information to the defence but for the fact they have no idea the case they're reading about in the papers involves the same person. Worse, the continued anonymity post conviction means that they might never become aware of it, thus preventing the information from surfacing on appeal as well.

Has this actually happened? No idea, and I'm not suggesting it. But it's a possibility, just as is the possibility that prosecution witnesses might not come forward if defendants have anonymity, and not only am I confident that the evidence is lacking here too I doubt there's been much effort even to look into it. We wouldn't dream of using that as a justification for scrapping the anonymity of accusers, so why is it a barrier for defendants, who are innocent until proven guilty, from being anonymous until/unless convicted?

But the lamest argument of all is this:
"... or further unknown offences by the same person from coming to light."
Utter bollocks. Seriously, a ten year old could spot the colossal fucking flaw in this line of reasoning, and it's really a bit of a concern that the fucking Justice Secretary has missed it. But for Crispen Blunt here it is, avoiding long words as best I can:

If people in jury box say man in dock is bad man then man with wig on bench wave hammer and say you go prison you bad man and no more anonymity* for you, we tell all other people who you are. Then if bad man has been bad man to other people before now they no who he is and that he bad man, and they see in paper and TV and they go police and say what bad man did. And then you drag the fucker's arse out of his prison cell and put him before another court.

D'you see, Crispen? Nobody is suggesting anonymity should stay after someone is convicted, which means that further unknown offences most certainly can come to light. Just not during the original trial, that's all, and since UK courts consider it so important that the jury decides the verdict on the evidence before it that previous convictions are generally excluded until after the verdict is reached I'd expect further offences to be tried separately anyway. In short, anonymity up to conviction will probably make absolutely no difference to the chance of other offences coming to light.

But in all likelihood neither Crispen nor the Justice Department are really that stupid and this will have occurred to them already, but that's irrelevant because it's not the real reason for going back on the anonymity pledge. When the reasons given are so ridiculous I simply can't believe it's much more than a lack of political will. That somewhere a decision was made: too many people will make waves if we do this so fuck it, let's not bother.

Maybe it's good news for rape victims, I don't know. But I'm certain it's bad news for two other groups. Obviously it's bad news for any guy unlucky enough to be falsely accused, but I'd go further than that. It's bad news for the whole of society when the law treats people differently according to nothing more than their chromosomes.

* Sorry Crispen, but I just couldn't avoid that one.
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