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Anonymity and sex offences

Duration:
43 minutes
First broadcast:
Wednesday 25 June 2014

Transparency is a cornerstone of the justice system, but are the scales of justice becoming dangerously unbalanced when it comes to sex crimes? 21 year old Ben Sullivan, the former president of the Oxford Union, is the latest man to say that his life has been ruined after allegations that he raped a fellow student and sexually assaulted another. He was arrested in May and held in a cell for 12 hours before being released on bail. It was 6 weeks before he was cleared, but in that time his name was published in the press and all over the internet turning his life upside-down. Under current legislation people who complain they've been the victims of sexual offences automatically receive anonymity but suspects do not. Is that fair? Being accused of committing a sex crime carries a unique stigma. In the wake of the fever of publicity about celebrities being investigated in operation Yewtree, are we in danger of treating the accused as guilty until proven innocent? It hasn't always been the case. From 1976 to 1988 both parties in such cases were granted anonymity. But is introducing more secrecy in to our courts the answer? And if we grant anonymity to those accused of rape, why not to those accused of child abuse, or child murder? The law on anonymity was changed because police said it made it difficult to gather evidence if they couldn't name the accused, but there are those who say that it now makes it far too easy make false allegations of rape. Are sex crimes so uniquely pernicious and hard to convict that we should rebalance the system in favour of victims? Could we ever go back to a system where both parties are named? How do you balance the scales of justice when it comes to rape and other sex crimes?
Moral Maze - Presented by Michael Buerk

Witnesses are Jill Saward, Nigel Evans, Holly Dustin and Tim Rustem.
Produced by Phil Pegum.

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