Now, I am not one of those who blames the Lib Dems for their coalition deal with the Tories to form a government. I’ve never really been that convinced that the Lib Dems are really part of ‘The Left’ to start with. Some of them are lovely soft greenie-socialdemocratic types. And others, like much of their new front bench are primarily economic liberals who hate trade unions and would love to bring the ‘market’ into public services.
For the most part, the coalition proposals launched last week are as expected – a mix of Tory and Lib Dem manifesto ideas, with some compromises made on both sides, combined with the natural tendency to blame their predecessors.
But one item took me by surprise. It wasn’t in either manifesto, but it’s there on page 24 (second item) in the ‘Justice’ section:
- We will extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants.
This is almost unbelievable, and a massive backward step. For one moment consider how hard it is to even get victims to come forward, then how difficult it is to build a case including intent and establishing non-consent, and then remember that we still have a bit of an attitude that certain people have (and judges are not immune unfortunately) that some victims ‘bring it on themselves’. But one thing that is clear when it comes to serial rapists – if they are named, more victims are likely to come forward.
There are a few questions that arise immediately – Why rape alone? Does it include paedophilic rape, but exclude other paedophilic crimes? Why not murder, that’s pretty heinous?
I know where it comes from, it’s the meme that there are loads of women out there who are making malicious complaints. It happens of course (just as for any criminal allegations, there’s a possibility of false witness), but it’s not exactly that common, and with the ridiculoulsy low conviction rates for rape (6% of reported rapes end up in a convistion for it, rising to 14% if you consider a conviction for other crimes as a result) would appear to be unlikely to work.
Where it does happen, clearly someone who makes a knowingly false allegation of a serious crime should themselves be prosecuted heavily, especially if they perjure themselves in court. But going to the extent of ensuring anonymity for defendants is way too far – and it will make it less likely that other victims will come forward. It also seems to be sending the message that the government thinks rape victims are more likely to be liars.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ll be mentioning this to any Lib Dem voter I meet.