Sex case defendants 'should get anonymity'

Maura McGowan When a defendant is convicted "everything should be open" says Maura McGowan

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Suspects in sex cases should have their identities protected until they are convicted, a senior lawyer has said.

Maura McGowan QC, chairman of the Bar Council of England and Wales, said defendants should get the same right to anonymity as complainants.

She wants the change because sexual allegations carry "such a stigma".

But the charity Rape Crisis said anonymity for defendants would discourage people from reporting sex crimes and "victimise victims further".

Ms McGowan told the Stephen Nolan Show on BBC Radio 5 live: "Until they have been proven to have done something as awful as this, I think there is a strong argument in cases of this sort - because they carry such stigma with them - to maintain the defendant's anonymity.

"But once the defendant is convicted then of course everything should be open to scrutiny and to the public."

Jo Wood, of the charity Rape Crisis, said it would "never condone" anonymity for defendants in sex cases.

"There are so many barriers to victims reporting sexual violence," she said.

"Hiding the name of their perpetrator is just one more way to victimise victims further."

Ms McGowan said there were arguments on both sides. When anonymity had been accorded to defendants before "there was a sense that perhaps it was affording too much protection to people. There is obviously a public interest in open justice - people would say they're entitled to know not simply who's convicted, but who's been accused."

In cases like that of Jimmy Savile, she added, it might be that "if one complainant comes forward against a person, it might give other people who don't know her - but who went through the same experience - the courage to come forward as well."

Also on the show, Terry Harrison, who was falsely accused of rape five years ago, said: "I contemplated taking my own life on a couple of occasions, I was on the Middlesbrough bridge, I couldn't believe what was happening.

'I'm still judged'

"If a person has done such a heinous crime then they should be named and shamed, I agree - but not until they have been done for it.

"I was guilty until I was proven innocent and even when I was proven innocent I'm still getting judged."

But Jill Saward, campaigner for victims' rights and a rape victim herself, said: "When you have anonymity for a rapist or potential rapist, you protect him, you make him what people believe to be a safe person to be with."

The treatment of those involved in sex cases has gained attention recently following the apparent suicide of Frances Andrade, 48, after giving evidence at the trial of Michael Brewer.

Plans to restore anonymity to rape defendants were included in the 2010 coalition agreement but the scheme was dropped later that year. Ministers said there was "not enough evidence" to justify the move.

Anonymity was granted to rape defendants under the 1976 Sexual Offences Act but removed in 1988.

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