A piece by Jonathan Ames and Richard Ford, respectively Legal Editor and Home Correspondent of The Times, published online two hours ago. The pressure group Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform, which was launched this year, is (disappointingly) calling for anonymity only until charges are brought, rather than in the event of a conviction. The plague of men’s lives being destroyed by false sexual offence allegations will continue unabated.
Suspected sex offenders, fraudsters and others accused of serious crimes should remain anonymous until charged if they have a reputation to protect, the new justice secretary has said.
Robert Buckland, QC, backed a campaign by Sir Cliff Richard and Paul Gambaccini to ban the naming of those arrested on suspicion of rape and other sexual offences. He told The Times that there was “merit” in extending this to all serious crimes.
Guidance to police and the Crown Prosecution Service says that suspects’ names should not be published until charge unless there is a policing justification but this does not stop them being identified by other means.
Mr Buckland, who was made justice secretary and lord chancellor last week, believes that the law should be amended to allow judges to issue an order that suspects must not be identified.
Mr Buckland, a former criminal law barrister who was solicitor-general, courted controversy by saying that anonymity would be less justifiable for those with damaged reputations.
“Let’s say you are a reputable local businessperson who is accused of fraud. Your good name is going to be really undermined by this mere accusation. You are a person of good character. That might be a meritorious case for anonymity,” he said. He added: “Let’s say you are a person with a list of previous convictions. You’ve committed offences. There is intelligence out there that suggests that other victims might come forward. Is that a case where anonymity should be automatic?”
Police and prosecutors have argued that the naming of suspects before charge assists in gathering evidence. That view is supported by some victims’ rights campaigners. Dame Vera Baird, the victims commissioner, said that it could be crucial in the investigation of serious crimes. “There is sometimes a public interest in disclosing the name of an arrestee prior to charge if there may be a prospect of other complainants stepping forward,” she said.
Chris Henley, QC, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, criticised the proposals for creating a two-tier system and going against the principle of open justice.
“Open, transparent justice is a fundamental principle of our system,” he said. “The law must be applied equally whoever you are; money and apparent status should never be a card that can be played by the powerful to hide behind.”
He added that while the “police behaved lamentably in the Cliff Richard and Paul Gambaccini cases, it would be profoundly wrong to divide suspects into people-like-us, who are allowed anonymity, and the rest of society who are not”.
Mr Gambaccini, a radio and TV presenter, was named immediately after he was arrested in 2013 on suspicion of historical sexual offences under Scotland Yard’s Operation Yewtree. It was nearly a year before the police announced that he would not face charges. Sir Cliff has also been a campaigner for anonymity since his Berkshire flat was raided in 2014 in another Yewtree investigation. He was named even though he was never arrested. Police announced in 2016 that he would not be charged.
Both men are members of the pressure group Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform, which was launched this year. Mr Gambaccini said that he was pleased by Mr Buckland’s comments.
“The only reason our campaign has not called for a wider application of anonymity is that we have focused on the type of cases we have personally experienced,” the broadcaster said. “But there is no reason in principle why an anonymity rule could not be extended to other serious alleged offences.”
Mr Buckland said that sexual offences should not be treated differently from other serious crimes, such as fraud. “It would be wrong to single out particular types of offence that could attract anonymity. That is a misconceived approach,” he said.
Richard Atkinson, co-chairman of the criminal law committee at the Law Society, welcomed the proposal. “The scarcity of cases where pre-charge publicity leads to more people coming forward and the impact on innocent suspects outweighs, in my opinion, the benefit of identifying people before they are charged, save where details are released for the purpose of apprehension of those sought for serious offences whose whereabouts are not, or no longer, known to police,” he said.
The government has previously said that guidance from the College of Policing “highlights the importance of respecting suspects’ rights to privacy. It states that the police will not name those arrested, or suspected, of a crime, save in exceptional circumstances.”
Behind the story
The original legislation providing anonymity for complainants was the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976. Defendants were also given anonymity under it (Jonathan Ames writes).
Parliament removed anonymity for defendants in 1988. This followed a criminal law revision committee report in 1984, which said that the argument for equality between rape defendants and complainants was not valid.
Anonymity for complainants was then extended to a lifetime under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. This is given to alleged victims of sexual offences once they have made a complaint to the police.
The current practice relating to alleged perpetrators is contained in guidelines from the College of Policing. It states that in normal circumstances those arrested will not be named by the police until charged. However, the police will move away from that guidance if they feel there is a strong reason to name a suspect in order to gather evidence for an investigation.
In 2010 the coalition government said that it would extend anonymity in rape cases to defendants, but the proposal was dropped.
A parliamentary research paper points out that there are already protections in place for defendants, such as the rules that restrict what can be reported during a trial.
Naming defendants can also encourage other potential victims and witnesses to come forward.
A compromise would involve providing generally for the anonymity of defendants in sexual offence cases with the judge being able to make an exception.
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