Defendants in rape cases will also be granted anonymity under proposals set out by the new coalition government this week.
There is no further detail at this stage as to when this will be implemented, but it accompanies plans to use proceeds from the victims surcharge to deliver up to 15 new rape crisis centres and providing existing centres with long-term funding.
Chief Constable Dave Whatton, lead on rape investigation for the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), expressed concern that the proposal to grant defendants in rape cases anonymity would have far-reaching implications.
Despite the one line appearing to be a definite intention, Mr Whatton says he has received a briefing from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) stating a proper review will be carried out to assess the implications and best way to take the proposal forward. The move will require primary legislation and will be subject to consultation and scrutiny.
“I am quite concerned that a one-liner has created lots of storms when it is just highlighting that there is a review and research to be carried out in this area,” said Mr Whatton.
The proposal is in response to public perceptions that many false allegations are made. A report by Baroness Stern earlier this year recommended that independent research should first be done into the scale of false rape allegations, work that is still ongoing.
“The public perception is that there are lots of false allegations; my professional view is that there aren’t,” Mr Whatton said.
“Justice should apply for victims and suspects in a way that is just. I am interested in being part of that consultation and scrutiny because there are some serious implications if we took this line.”
The proposal is not new; in the 1970s, the Sexual Offences Act introduced anonymity for those accused of rape but was later repealed.
The proposal provoked anger among campaigners. Ruth Hall, of Women Against Rape, said the decision was an insult and a backlash against the rising number of rape reports. “More attention needs to be paid to the 94 per cent of reported cases that do not end in conviction rather than the few that are false,” she said. “If men accused of rape got special rights to anonymity, it would reinforce the misconception that lots of women who report rape are lying. False rape allegations are extremely rare but receive disproportionate publicity.”
Launching the coalition document last week, Prime Minister David Cameron emphasised the need for “freedom, fairness and responsibility”. The document, The Coalition: our programme for government, states: “The Government believes that more needs to be done to ensure fairness in the justice system. This means introducing more effective sentencing policies, as well as overhauling the system of rehabilitation to reduce reoffending and provide greater support and protection for the victims of crime.”
A ‘rehabilitation revolution’ is also proposed, to pay independent providers to reduce reoffending, using the savings within the criminal justice system that such a change is expected to generate; the concept has previously been proposed by various justice think tanks and addressed by former Justice Secretary Jack Straw under the previous government.
Other proposals under the coalition’s plans for justice are:
•A full review of sentencing policy to ensure that it is effective in deterring crime, protecting the public, punishing offenders and cutting reoffending. In particular, they will ensure that sentencing for drug use helps offenders come off drugs.
•Implementing the Prisoners’ Earnings Act 1996 to allow deductions from the earnings of prisoners in properly paid work to be paid into the Victims’ Fund.
•Introduction of effective measures to tackle anti-social behaviour and low-level crime, including forms of restorative justice, such as neighbourhood justice panels.