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Nor is there a case for upping the penalties. The Leader of the Opposition in a speech a fortnight ago made that very point and, with great respect, I disagree with him. The maximum penalties are already up to ceiling height. The discretion allowed to a judge is total within his judicial capacity. Indeed, it would merely divert attention from the realities of the situation to think of adding to the penalties that already exist. Furthermore, they would make conviction less likely, rather than more likely, in most cases.

What is to be done of a positive nature? There is no panacean answer or comprehensive solution. I firmly believe that, as those who have preceded me have suggested, a great deal must be done to educate public opinion and young people in particular. There have been a number of surveys over the past five years. One of the most disquieting facts that I have seen is the number of young people who are blasé about having intercourse with a partner when that partner does not consent. I have seen figures of 40 per cent, 50 per cent and 60 per cent quoted: whatever the correct figure, it is extremely and shatteringly disquieting. Young people must be assisted to regard rape as utterly abhorrent and to have respect for their own bodies and their own lives, but, far more than that, to regard the lives and bodies of other people as sacrosanct. I know that it sounds very much like one generation preaching to another. These things, I have no doubt, have been said throughout history, but they are more relevant now than ever and the Government have their part to play.

I welcome the fact that women will be allowed to give video-recorded evidence. It has rather puzzled me why that did not happen earlier under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. It would be most proper for the evidence in chief to be the video-recorded complaint and for the woman to be cross-examined down the line by video link. More humane conditions and practices during investigations are certainly called for. We must reduce that huge percentage of

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people who see fit either not to complain or to withdraw their complaint at an earlier stage. There are many other matters to discuss, but time has forestalled me. I have no doubt that we shall return time and time again to this topic, which is one of the most violently disgraceful of criminal offences.

12.21 pm

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, that was a brilliant speech. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Gale on securing the debate. She will know, however, that while I want more convictions, I worry about false accusations. Earlier this year, a woman who had made a series of false allegations of sexual assault was named in Parliament, and there are many such cases. Recently, a Midlands businessman of impeccable reputation was released after three years of a sentence. His conviction was based on a tissue of lies. His accuser had a long history of false allegations and convictions for robbery. It was only following a referral from the CCRC and a police investigation that the accuser’s full record was exposed. Over 17 years and under eight different aliases, the accuser had made accusations of rape against her father in 1984, her step-father, a local boy in 1983 and further rapes and sexual attacks in 1998, in 1999, in March, July and December 2000 and in June 2001. On three separate occasions she alleged that she had been attacked from behind with a knife.

Astonishingly, the police had most of this information on file and hid it from the accused’s defence team. The woman was well known to the police as a serial liar. But for the diligence of a policeman and a barrister, Annie Johnston, the allegations would have destroyed his life. It was an outrage: but there is more. The accused then appealed against conviction. The CPS, which, unbelievably, was dissatisfied with the original sentence, applied in the name of the Attorney-General to have the sentence increased—I repeat, increased. It now argues that it was unaware of the reputation of the accused, but it should have been. Unbelievably, the sentence was increased to five years.

In 2004, the CCRC intervened. It was then that the whole sordid background of the accuser came out. It revealed that the police had hidden the truth from the defence and that an officer on the case had even been commended for his meticulous detective work. The law has become an ass. It is riddled with the potential for injustice. The police are cutting corners to secure convictions. The pressure for prosecutions and convictions is costing innocent men their liberty. Jurors—women jurors, in particular—are becoming suspicious. False accusers are gravely damaging the rights of women to have their cases properly handled by the police and the courts. We have to make it more difficult for women who lie. It is one way to restore confidence in the law.

The police need to carry out more detailed background checks on accusers. We should properly enforce with criminal sanctions the duty on the police to reveal evidence which is helpful to the defence: a few policemen in the dock might help. The right to lifelong anonymity for accusers under the 1992 Act should be amended. Under the law, the trial judge has, under a get-out clause in Section 3, discretion to remove lifelong

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anonymity. In the Court of Appeal the judge does not have that right. In the Warren Blackwell case, the judge wanted to name a serial accuser of rape, but could not do so. In that case, Lady Justice Hallett said:

I am not arguing that anonymity of the accuser should automatically be lifted where a defendant is found not guilty. The rape may have taken place and acquittal may be as a result of insufficient evidence. However, in cases where evidence is fabricated, it is right that the trial judge should be able to lift anonymity. Surely it follows that this right should be extended to Appeal Court judges.

The question of prosecution for perjury by false accusers in rape cases should be reviewed. While the media now report more rape perjury prosecutions, there are inevitably cases which invite prosecution but where for medical reasons prosecution is inadvisable. In these cases a judge should direct that DNA is taken from the false accuser. While considering prosecution of the unfit we need, however, to recognise that many trials already take place where the defendant is not of sound mind. For example, if a defendant has a history of violence arising out of a psychiatric condition, he or she can still be prosecuted. If unfit to stand trial, the court already has the power to act under mental health legislation. I believe that a national register should be kept of persons deemed by the police to be false accusers. Where the identity of an accuser may be in doubt, DNA should be taken but destroyed if no match is found in the national database identifying the accuser as having made previous false allegations.

Innocent men should have the right to be protected from false allegations. Where accusers make false allegations and change their names to hide their identity, judges should be free to reveal all former identities. Without DNA safeguards and lifting anonymity, false accusers can run rings around the law and destroy lives. Why should a man who is found innocent not enjoy the same anonymity rights as a woman? Thanks to the 1976 Bill of my noble friend Lord Corbett, both men and women were given anonymity rights. In the case of men, anonymity would last up to conviction. But in 1988 there was a change in the law and the anonymity of men, once charged, was removed. It meant that thousands of men have had their reputations destroyed on the back of false allegations. The law now needs to change.

We also need new statistical data. The 5 per cent conviction rate is repeatedly used, while the 41 per cent rate for conviction is rarely mentioned—forgive me, but I have to dispute the statistics produced by my noble friend. That conviction rate is one of the highest in the criminal justice system. We need statistics on the number of allegations where no action is taken because

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the police disbelieve the complainant or where allegations are withdrawn because of a loss of confidence in the criminal justice system by the accuser. The work by Kelley, Lovatt and Regan, which I have always found very interesting, is immensely helpful in this area, but it concludes with the need for greater consistency in reporting statistics.

We need an in-depth investigation into the attitudes of juries to the issue of rape, but I know that it is difficult. Some jurors refuse to accept that date rape is on a par with rape with a knife on the towpath. For many, it is not “real rape”. “She asked for it” is still deeply ingrained in public prejudice. The fact that the trauma for the woman is the same is often not understood. No doubt the general public need to be educated and I am pleased that the response yesterday to the consultation paper did enforce that measure. Indeed, I agree strongly with what my noble friend Lady Gale said about these matters in her contribution. But jurors often recoil at the prospect of an eight-year sentence for rape where the parties are known to each other, and the police are well aware of that when deciding on whether to bring a case. The judges are well aware of the issue of gravity, and often set the sentence accordingly, but many jurors do not understand that when they are deciding on guilt.

We should consider the New Zealand practice where there are two different crimes: one of sexual violation, which would turn on the issue of consent, and the other of aggravated sexual violence, which would provide for even greater penalty and turn on whether the victim was unconscious, unlawfully detained, subject to a deception, unable to communicate a lack of consent, subject to a rape through impersonation, a minor or threatened with a weapon. This would avoid creating the lesser offence of date rape which many resist. Aggravated sexual violence could happen in all circumstances, whether it be date rape, marital rape or rape by a stranger. The conviction rates in New Zealand are far higher than ours.

The question remains: how many innocent men are now in prison for a rape they never committed and where the false accuser remains free? Far worse, how many guilty men are there out there who “got away with it”? We have a broken back system of investigation, prosecution and bad law. We need a rewrite of the law.

12.31 pm

Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on her fortitude in the way she has championed women’s issues and for the clear and concise way in which she opened the debate.

Kofi Annan said:

Violence against women is widespread all around the world. Amnesty International states that between 20 and 60 per cent of women worldwide report to have been beaten by their partners; and between 40 and 80 per cent of all physical abuse suffered by women is at the hands of a close family member or

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friend. While the problem tends to affect the poorest most severely, it affects women of all classes and ethnicities; poverty and marginal isolation leave some women more vulnerable to violence. Without the right kind of assistance, it is difficult for those living in poverty to escape abusive situations, to obtain protection and to access the criminal justice system to seek redress.

Gender abuse is broad-based. It includes physical, sexual and psychological abuse—for example, rape, female genital mutilation, sexual harassment, sexual assault, trafficking, forced prostitution and female infanticide. The abuse of women has an indelible impact on many aspects of women’s lives, including their psychological well-being, self-esteem, bodily integrity, public participation, autonomy and the well-being of their children.

The UN declaration on the elimination of violence against women states that,

For the enslaved African woman, this clearly was the case. In fact, it has its origins in the days of the enslavement of African peoples. It was common practice for enslavers to further abuse young African women by raping them and using them to give sexual experience to their sons. Sad to say, the descendants of the enslaved still carry on the practice. Hardly a week goes by when there is not a report of some young woman being so abused by either her peers, her father, a male relative or a family friend.

Let me inject a story here which follows well on the position taken by the previous speaker on men. Cassie was a highly intelligent young woman who was brutally murdered in her home by a sex offender. In October 2001, Cassie was alone at home; she was murdered and left to be discovered by her sisters, who still suffer from the sight that met their eyes. After months of police investigation, her ex-boyfriend was charged and brought to trial for her murder. The trial took place one year later and the accused was acquitted by the jury due to a lack of forensic evidence. The police had no other suspect. The investigating officers, friends and family still remain certain that it was her ex-boyfriend who carried out the brutal attack, but without forensic evidence the jury felt unable to find him guilty.

Cassie was aged 14 when she met her ex-boyfriend. She did not know that he had been involved in the criminal justice system and had served a sentence for rape. Cassie’s relationship, even at that early stage, had all the elements of violence; it lasted two years. It was only after the trial that the family was told of his violent and abusive behaviour towards women. In every violent relationship there are victims; unfortunately Cassie was no exception and she ultimately paid the price with her life. Her family, through loyalty to Cassie, did not tell anyone of the degrading violence she suffered; it was too horrific. Cassie’s attacker has since gone on to commit crimes of this nature and I am told he is awaiting trial.

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The second case is that of a 10 year-old who was raped by two men. The judge in the case said this 10 year-old child dressed as a young woman. In his summing up he further said that the young child had regularly worn make up, strappy tops and jeans. He said that she was a very difficult and needy child; that she was sexually precocious and liked to dress provocatively; he said that she looked 16. In turn, the judge gave the attackers lenient sentences. One attacker received concurrent sentences of two years and 18 months; he was free after nine months. The other attacker was given nine months; he served only four weeks. The judge suggested that the child should be given money to buy a bicycle to take her mind off things.

This is why I believe the Government should consider encouraging courses where men can unlearn the way they are brought up to believe that their strength is a hallmark for obtaining sex or for beating women without any thought of how the victim feels. The judge showed more sympathy to the offenders than the 10 year-old child. More could be done to listen to the victims. The Minister may wish to take on board the fact that several years ago we began a movement in Britain teaching racism awareness that was very successful. We should consider how we can introduce awareness training in sexual offences so that not only those who commit the offence but those who are judging the offenders are aware of what they are really dealing with.

12.39 pm

Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Gale, is receiving a bouquet of tributes today and I wish to add my own laurel. She has been a great champion of women. She is admired widely for her persistence on the subject, and I hope she is warmed by the great affection she is receiving today in this House.

I also congratulate the Government on the steps they have taken to deal with criminal justice issues affecting women. It cannot be sufficiently emphasised that no Government have ever been as active on the issues of rape, domestic violence, honour killing, prostitution, sex trafficking or sexual abuse. No Government have done as much as this one about that list of issues, and proper tribute should be paid to the Ministers who have struggled to find ways to improve the criminal justice system for the female half of the population.

Confidence in the law requires that the concerns of women are addressed. As the Attorney-General will confirm, whenever she or any woman lawyer addresses a public gathering, these are the issues that women raise and where they too often describe a negative experience. I have been speaking and writing on these issues now for some 30-odd years. I also remember that when I first wrote the book Eve was Framed back in the early 1990s—I recently rewrote it—I took part in many debates with judges and they would all insist that the law was gender-blind. I remember appearing with one such judge on a television programme and him saying to me afterwards, “Helena, I don’t want you to think that I’m against women. I voted for them to join the Kennel Club”.

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I am afraid that even today there are still too many within the law who believe that the law is neutral—an objective set of rules. It is slowly being recognised that the law from the beginning of time was made largely with men in mind or from a male perspective. That was not a result of some act of male conspiracy perpetrated by men in long wigs. It was simply a reflection of the absence of women within the law and within Parliament because of women’s place within society. Women’s experience was absent from the law. That is why so many of us for so long argued for greater diversity within the judiciary or for steps to be taken to increase the presence of women in Parliament.

While the numbers game may encourage us to believe that discrimination is all in the past—women are now in the profession in significant numbers, and there are more women on the Bench—it has yet to be sufficiently acknowledged that legal cultures are still entrenched, as indeed are social attitudes, which are still premised too often on notions of good, bad and mad women, those who are worthy of the law’s protection and those who are less so. Women coming before the courts still too often encounter myths and stereotypes that disfigure the legal process. If a woman was drunk, has a history of mental illness or has been promiscuous, even today she might well forfeit the sympathy of the court, her testimony treated with caution and her account deemed suspect, however marauding her assailant has been.

Rape is the perfect example of the inadequacy of legal reform to challenge the more immutable forces operating in the law. All the changes designed to secure justice for women who have been raped, from removal of the corroboration requirement to restrictions on the right to cross-examine, have amounted to little, as the Fawcett statistics show. Despite all the efforts to improve the system, the stumbling block is that the woman knows that cross-examination will expose her to all the double standards that confront women and to all the ways she will be questioned differently from a man, and ultimately it will be her word against his.

Jurors hold complex and unspoken biases when it comes to issues of gender and sexuality. There are two important initiatives that have to be central to any cultural shift. I am glad that the Government have abandoned their interest in expert testimony to be called by the Crown, for all the reasons that have been described by the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan. I remember a book being published here called The Ultimate Violation, to which I wrote the foreword. It was written back in the early 1990s by an American lawyer and it advocated such a role for experts. I opposed it then and I oppose it now, for the reasons the noble Lord has given.

I welcome the efforts to improve judicial training in this sphere. That is one of the key initiatives. Too many judges still think that drunken consent is good enough. I also think it is vital that judges themselves are educated about the ways in which women often respond to rape. Many fail to report immediately because they are traumatised or ashamed. The stigma attached to rape still remains. Juries should therefore have it explained that a delay in reporting does not automatically mean the allegation is a concoction but

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may well reflect an understandable reaction. Women often confide in family or friends soon after the event but delay in going to the police, and that evidence of early reporting should be admissible, as the Government are recommending.

I also see the power of showing a video of the woman making her complaint. The reason why that can be so important is that by the time a woman comes to the witness box to testify, and I have seen this, she is often very controlled and unemotional about her experience—what psychologists describe as having “lack of affect”. That is because the only way to live with the trauma and emotional pain of so terrible an event is to distance yourself emotionally from what has happened. For juries, that can make the complainant very flat and uncompelling. Judges should be made aware of how rape operates on a victim and sum up to the jury accordingly.

There also has to be a greater campaign for public awareness. The Government should take every opportunity to raise understanding about the psychological effects of rape and other forms of violence. A public information campaign, particularly in our schools, would have more impact than any fine tuning of the law.

The question is still asked why reforms of the rape law never seem to have the impact we desire; they never seem to address such a serious injustice. One of the difficulties is that rape will almost invariably be a crime committed in private, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said. Often the incidents take place between people who are known to each other and juries are always reluctant to convict on one person’s word against another’s, especially where there is so much cultural and social baggage.

The gap in the provision of services that has been described by other speakers is sometimes reflected in the gap in policing responses around the country. To what extent is the CPS introducing specialist teams to deal with sexual offences?

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