Sex case defendants 'should not be named' says senior lawyer

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

People accused of sex crimes should have their identities protected until they are convicted, a senior lawyer has said.

Under current legislation, people who complain they have been the victims of sexual offences automatically receive anonymity, but suspects do not.

Maura McGowan, chairwoman of the Bar Council, believes the law should be changed because allegations of a sexual nature "carry such a stigma".

"Until they 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, until he is convicted," she told BBC Radio 5.

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

Ms McGowan conceded there were arguments on both sides, for the naming of a suspect and for keeping them anonymous until proven guilty.

She said that in the past, when people accused of sex crimes had been granted anonymity, there was a sense that it gave them too much protection.

"There is obviously a public interest in open justice," she said. "People would say that they are entitled to know not simply who's convicted but who's been accused."

Ms McGowan cited the case of Jimmy Savile as representing the benefit of suspects being named.

"In a case like that, people would say, 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," she said.

Ms McGowan's stance was backed by Terry Harrison, who was falsely accused of rape five years ago and contemplated suicide because of the abuse he suffered after he was named in the media.

He told the BBC: "If the person has done the crime as heinous as that (rape), then they should be named and shamed, I agree, but not until they've actually been done for it.

"Innocent until proven guilty is a load of rubbish. I was guilty until I was proven innocent and even when I was proven innocent, I'm still getting judged.

"I ended up going to jail for something I didn't do. I was in the paedophile wing, the rapists' wing, the grass wing. I was there for three months before the DNA results finally came back negative.

"But the stigma is always there."

But rape campaigner Jill Saward told the BBC that naming suspects was essential, because anonymity offered too much protection.

Ms Saward 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 potentially.

"I don't think that we can say that it is the slightest bit fair to put people in danger knowing they might be a risk to people, let them make their own choice.

"Many of these people who are out there committing rape are serial rapists and sometimes people feel there isn't enough evidence to go forward on my case alone, but actually when lots of people come forward you begin to build up a very big picture.

"But when you have anonymity for that rapist - or potential rapist - you protect him."

Human rights barrister John Cooper added: "Anonymity for sex crime victims is unworkable. Why should somebody who is accused of a sex crime receive anonymity? Why don't we broaden that out to include people who are accused of beating children or murdering children?

"There's no distinguishing case for sex crimes to be singled out, it has to be anonymity for all or anonymity for none."

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

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003