Goldsmith ponders law change on sex offence cases

The Government is "actively" considering whether the law on anonymity for complainants in sex offence cases needs to be amended, the Attorney General said today.

This was being done "in the light of the Court of Appeal judgment in the Blackwell case" and a decision would be reached "soon", Lord Goldsmith QC told the House of Lords.

In the Blackwell case, false rape accusations by a woman with a long history of fabricating such claims led to Warren Blackwell being jailed for more than three years.

Mr Blackwell was eventually he was freed by the Court of Appeal.

His accuser was named in the Lords by Labour peer Lord Campbell-Savours, who branded 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.

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

Lord Campbell-Savours asked whether the Government would name the accuser in the Leslie Warren rape 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: "No. 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?

"The police will have destroyed her DNA as they had no right to retain it if she wasn't prosecuted, the courts have given her lifetime anonymity under the law, and the press will be prosecuted if they name her unless an MP is prepared to name her in the chamber, which I am not prepared to do in this particular case.

"Is she to be left to carry on making further allegations, in conditions in which men can do very little about it until they get to the courts?"

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.

"That was the basis of the Court of Appeal's decision, that certain disclosures had not been made relating to previous allegations."

Later Lord Goldsmith repeated his statement that the Government was considering whether the law needed to be changed, but on this occasion he stressed that it was "actively" doing so.

Lord Campbell-Savours asked him: "You have referred to a possible change in the law.

"Can we have a very early decision on this so that I don't have to table more questions in that particular area?"

Lord Goldsmith told him: "Subject to my ministerial colleagues, I hope we will reach a decision soon."

 

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