Skip to main content

Anonymity for suspects is justice

The way Sir Cliff Richard has been treated by the police and the BBC in relation to allegations of sexual misconduct is a disservice to justice.  The deliberate leaking and collusion with the media to provide maximum publicity is a shocking breach of trust.  Allegations of sexual abuse must be pursued where there are sufficient grounds for doing so,  but deliberately making known the identity of a suspect is to put justice at risk for both potential accused and victims.  It sets up a 'trial by media' where those accused have no rights to defend themselves or facility for rebutting allegations. It creates a 'no smoke without fire' concept and tarnishes reputations.

It has become a particular problem with the investigation of historic cases following the Jimmy Savile revelations. Almost anyone in the public eye has become 'fair game' for the police and the media without a thought of the normal process of justice.   The police on the one hand want to widen their investigation and want possible victims to come forward.  But how they approach this must be balanced with protecting the rights that people have not to be left with allegations in the media but without prosecutions.

The question of the anonymity of the accused is once again the subject of public debate.  The number of well-known people arrested as part of Operation Yewtree and other, related investigations has brought the issue into the spotlight and social media has amplified the 'repetitional damage' that can be inflicted by naming a suspect.

Now the Home Affairs Select Committee of the house of commons has called for anonymity for suspects until such time as there is sufficient evidence to bring charges. Suspects, they say, should have the same right to anonymity as that given to victims. If police need to release information about a suspect as part of an investigation then this should be through a formal process. Furthermore there should be a zero tolerance to any leaking of information by the police to the press and media.

As the Home Affairs Committee point out in their report, being arrested and held on bail is no indication of guilt. It means simply that the police have acted upon a reasonable suspicion, carried out an arrest, and wish to continue to investigate the allegation without holding the suspect in custody. This is a much lower bar than that required in a court to establish guilt, and in fact a much weaker test than the Crown Prosecution Service applies when deciding whether or not to prosecute, which requires that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction.  Yet reputations can be tarnished.  In some notable cases there has been leaks of names to the media even where charges have not been brought and arrests have not been made.

The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976 initially introduced anonymity for complainants, initially only in rape cases, but subsequently extended to other sex offences, but the provisions granting anonymity to the accused were repealed in the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and accused persons currently have no entitlement to anonymity.  During its inquiry into the Sexual Offences Bill 2003, the Home Affairs Committee called for anonymity for the defendant in such cases, because it felt sexual offences were “within an entirely different order” to most other crimes, carrying a particular and very damaging stigma.

Trial by social media is no substitute for the rigours of a proper investigation and trial by a court.







Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Ian Duncan-Smith says he wants to make those on benefits 'better people'!

By any account, the government's austerity strategy is utilitarian. It justifies its approach by the presumed potential ends. It's objective is to cut the deficit, but it has also adopted another objective which is specifically targeted. It seeks to drive people off benefits and 'back to work'.  The two together are toxic to the poorest in society. Those least able to cope are the most affected by the cuts in benefits and the loss of services. It is the coupling of these two strategic aims that make their policies ethically questionable. For, by combining the two, slashing the value of benefits to make budget savings while also changing the benefits system, the highest burden falls on a specific group, those dependent on benefits. For the greater good of the majority, a minority group, those on benefits, are being sacrificed; sacrificed on the altar of austerity. And they are being sacrificed in part so that others may be spared. Utilitarian ethics considers the ba

Prioritising people in nursing care.

There has been in recent years concern that care in the NHS has not been sufficiently 'patient centred', or responsive to the needs of the patient on a case basis. It has been felt in care that it as been the patient who has had to adapt to the regime of care, rather than the other way around. Putting patients at the centre of care means being responsive to their needs and supporting them through the process of health care delivery.  Patients should not become identikit sausages in a production line. The nurses body, the Nursing and Midwifery Council has responded to this challenge with a revised code of practice reflection get changes in health and social care since the previous code was published in 2008. The Code describes the professional standards of practice and behaviour for nurses and midwives. Four themes describe what nurses and midwives are expected to do: prioritise people practise effectively preserve safety, and promote professionalism and trust. The

When Finance Drives Destruction

Tackling climate change means stopping the funding of rainforest destruction, says a significant study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund.  The UK's financial services have provided directly over £8.7 billion to 167 different traders, processors, and buyers of forest-risk commodities (cocoa, rubber, timber, soy, beef, palm oil, pulp & paper) from 2013 to 2021.   With direct and indirect investment,  the figure rises to a staggering £200 bn.  Whilst not all that investment is in destructive projects,  the study concludes there is little transparency on the risk.  Finance is the oil in the economic machine.  But it also drives decisions. We all know the importance of money. We borrow to invest. So much depends on it, such as company pensions.  Do we really know what our pension pots are doing? We invest for the future. But what kind of future? Is all investment good?  Much investment is bad. Investment drives the nature of our economy. It drives our decisions as individuals,