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

The lion and the wildebeest

Birds flock, fish school, bees swarm, but social being is more than simply sticking together.  Social groups enable specialisation and a sharing of abilities, and enhances ability, learning and creating new tricks. The more a group works together, the more effective they become as a team.  Chimpanzees learn from each other how to use stones to crack nuts, or sticks to get termites.  All around us we see cooperation and learning in nature.  Nature is inherently creative.  Pulling together becomes a rallying cry during a crisis.  We have heard it throughout the coronavirus pandemic.  "We are all in this together", a mantra that encourages people to adopt a common strategy. In an era of 'self-interest' and 'survival of the fittest,'  and 'selfish gene', we lose sight of the obvious conclusion from the evidence all around us.   Sticking together is more often the better approach.  This is valid for the lion as it is also for the wildebeest.   We don't

Noise pollution puts nature at risk

 "I just want a bit of peace and quiet!" Let's get away from all the hustle and bustle; the sound of endless traffic on the roads, of the trains on the railway, and the planes in the sky; the incessant drone; the noise. We live in a world of man-made noise; screeching, bellowing, on-and-on in an unmelodious cacophony.  This constant background noise has now become a significant health hazard.   With average background levels of 60 decibels, those who live in cities are often exposed to noise over 85 decibels, enough to cause significant hearing loss over time.  It causes stress, high blood pressure, headache and loss of sleep and poor health and well-being.   In nature, noise has content and significance.  From the roar of the lion, the laughing of a hyena,  communication is essential for life; as the warning of danger, for bonding as a group or a pair, finding a mate, or for establishing a position in a hierarchy - chattering works.  Staying in touch is vital to working

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