When the UK’s coalition government came to power, Conservatives and Liberal Democrats promised that they would increase ‘fairness in the justice system’ by providing defendants in rape cases with anonymity. This had been Lib Dem policy since 2006, while the coalition’s Justice Minister, Crispin Blunt, had supported anonymity while a Conservative backbencher.
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, or further unknown offences by the same person from coming to light.
Today’s conviction of veteran BBC broadcaster, Stuart Hall, for 14 counts of indecent assault on young girls demonstrates this was the right decision. Hall was also accused of rape (the charge remains on file), so would have been able to keep his name away from the media.
But we now have testimony from one victim, assaulted by Hall when she was 17, that she only came forward because she heard that he was being investigated.
After the Jimmy Saville case came out, I said to family I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Stuart Hall would be next and, within three weeks, it was coming out…
Hearing it on the radio I said to my husband: “What do I do? What do you think’s best?” My husband has known for thirty-six years what happened. When I heard it on the radio, I then got in touch with the local police.
Independent statements from victims who did not know each other was vital to building a case against Hall after so many years had passed. Anonymity would have stopped that happening. While terrible for the innocent, those accused of sex offences must continue to be named.
Update: An opinion poll published today reveals strong support for anonymity:
Three out of four people believe that people accused of rape and other sexual assaults should have their identities protected until they are convicted.
A ComRes survey for The Independent found strong public support for the controversial view expressed by Maura McGowan, chairman of the Bar Council, who argued that suspects in sex cases should enjoy the same right to anonymity as defendants.
In this case, 76% of the public, and the head of the Bar Council, are wrong.