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Rethink on identifying accused in rape cases

A surprise plan to grant anonymity to rape defendants will be significantly redrawn by the coalition Government after intense criticism.

Campaigners were furious last month when the coalition agreement, drawn up by the Tories and Liberal Democrats, included the pledge to keep the identity of rape suspects secret. It would have reinstated the anonymity rules repealed 12 years ago.

When the measure was revealed, Government sources suggested anonymity would only be lifted after a defendant had been through the courts and convicted. But, speaking at his first Prime Minister's Questions yesterday, Mr Cameron suggested the new rules may only hide the identity of defendants until they were formally charged.

Women's groups had argued the proposals would stop other rape victims coming forward, setting back plans to improve low conviction rates in rape trials. In a shift that appeared to pave the way for significantly watering down the scope of the anonymity changes, Mr Cameron conceded publicity around court cases “can help bring forward other people who have been raped”.

He cited his time on the Commons Home Affairs Committee, when MPs concluded there was a case for protecting the identity of defendants between their arrest and charge in rape cases. “The coalition agreement mentions this issue of anonymity and we will of course be bringing forward proposals which the House can then examine and debate,” he said.

“On the issue of anonymity, I sat on the Home Affairs Select Committee that examined this issue. We came to the conclusion that there was a case that between arrest and charge there was a case for anonymity,” he added.

Despite welcoming the apparent clarification of the plans, the women's rights campaign group, the Fawcett Society, warned that even smaller reforms would be a step backwards.

“We have yet to see evidence that this would mean greater justice for those accused of or victims of rape,” said Ceri Goddard, its chief executive.

“So far their plans seem based on flimsy ideas, little evidence and perhaps not a small degree of lingering sexist stereotypes about women who report rape, not on a real commitment to equal justice for women.”

The Prime Minister had been responding to fierce criticism from the acting Labour leader, Harriet Harman, who said the measures would make it even harder for rape victims to get justice.

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