Anonymity in rape cases

Published 07 February 2012

People who complain that they have been the victims of sexual offences are automatically given anonymity. Defendants in such cases, however, are not. This note considers the relevant legislation and the continuing debate as to whether defendants should be granted some form of anonymity. Shortly after the general election the Government indicated that it intended to introduce anonymity for defendants in rape cases. However, these plans were subsequently dropped on the basis that there was insufficient empirical evidence on which to base a decision on providing those accused of rape with anonymity.

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Since 1976, people who allege they are the victims of certain sexual offences, including rape, are automatically entitled to lifelong anonymity once their complaint has been made. This entitlement can only be lifted in certain circumstances, for example if the complainant chooses to reveal his or her identity or if the court orders that anonymity should be lifted in order to encourage witnesses to come forward. Some people have argued that the right to anonymity ought to be removed or limited where the complainant is believed to have made false allegations.

The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976, which first introduced anonymity for complainants, also provided for anonymity for defendants: apparently for the purpose of providing equality between complainants and defendants, and to protect potentially innocent defendants from stigma. However, this provision was repealed in 1988 and people accused of sexual offences therefore no longer have any particular entitlement to anonymity. There has been continued discussion as to whether anonymity for defendants should be reintroduced. In 2010, the newly-elected Government indicated that it would “extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants”. However, this proposal was subsequently dropped on the grounds that there was insufficient reliable empirical evidence on which to base a policy decision on providing those accused of rape with anonymity.

This note is limited to a discussion of anonymity in sex offence cases. It does not deal with more general restrictions on identifying individuals involved in litigation, for example the statutory provisions preventing the identification of children or young people involved in Youth Court proceedings.

Commons Briefing papers SN04746

Author: Sally Lipscombe

Topics: Crime, Sexual offences

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