False rape accusers may lose right to anonymity

Women who falsely accuse men of sexual offences could lose their right to anonymity, under a law reform being considered by ministers.

The proposed change follows the case of a man who spent more than three years in prison after he was wrongly convicted of rape.

Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General, confirmed yesterday that the Government was "actively" considering whether the law on complainant anonymity in sex offence cases needed amending. He told the Lords that this was being done "in the light of the Court of Appeal judgment in the Blackwell case" and that a decision would be reached "soon."

In that case Warren Blackwell was freed by the Court of Appeal after it was shown that the woman who had accused him of rape had a long history of making false accusations.

Last night campaigners against rape described any move to weaken the protection for complainants as outrageous.

Lisa Longstaff, of Women Against Rape, said such a proposal would serve only to discourage women from coming forward to make complaints in the first place and urged ministers to think again. "In the context of rape conviction rates being no more than 5 per cent it is outrageous for the Government even to contemplate relaxing the protection. We are pushing for a tightening of the law and have written to the Attorney General to voice our concerns."

Mr Blackwell's accuser was unmasked in the Lords last year by the Labour peer Lord Campbell-Savours, who used parliamentary privilege to reveal her identity and brand her a "serial and repeated liar".

Most news organisations declined to use her name, which later appeared in Hansard, the official record of Parliament's proceedings.

Alleged victims of sexual offences are granted lifelong anonymity under the law although in certain circumstances it can be lifted by a judge. The accuser became known only as Miss A.

Yesterday during Lords Question Time, Lord Campbell-Savours referred to a similar case of false accusation against Leslie Warren, who was jailed for two years, and later freed by the Appeal Court.

Lord Campbell-Savours asked whether the Government would name the accuser in the Leslie Warren case, and also in the case of other false accusers, where cases of persons convicted of rape had been referred by the Criminal Cases Review Commission to the Court of Appeal as "unsafe due to false accusations".

Lord Goldsmith told him: "Unless and until Parliament has decided to amend the law, it is not for the Government or anyone else to name complainants in rape cases, and by so doing remove the anonymity that Parliament has chosen to confer. We are considering whether the law on complainant anonymity requires amendment, in the light of the Court of Appeal judgment in the Blackwell case."

Lord Campbell-Savours replied: "I detect a slight shift in that answer. Who and what is to stop the false accuser in the case of Leslie Warren, who has now been released from prison, from making more false allegations against more innocent men?"

Lord Goldsmith replied: "In the event that any further allegations were brought by this particular complainant, then so far as is possible it would be the responsibility of the prosecution to disclose to any defendant what had happened before."

Ms Longstaff said that parliamentary privilege should not be used in such a way. "The other side of the coin is that women are now being sent to prison for false rapes while men accused of rape are going unprosecuted."