Raping the ‘Public Interest’ – Anonymity before a Criminal Charge

"If we look to the laws, they afford equal justice to all in their private differences; if no social standing, advancement in public life falls to reputation for capacity, class considerations not being allowed to interfere with merit; nor again does poverty bar the way."

Pericles, the Athenian leader, 431BC

It's wrong for a civilised society championing equality before the law to name a suspect publicly when he's simply being questioned for an alleged criminal offence.

For this is the time when the police determine whether witnesses are credible, collect evidence, decide whether an offence has been committed, and pass to the Crown Prosecution Service for further action. Once the Crown Prosecution Service makes its decision to prosecute based upon the two test principle: (1) is there enough evidence to secure a conviction and (2); is it in the public interest, that's then the time to release details of the accused.

Raping the 'Public interest'

public interestThe allegations made against Nigel Evans MP,  the Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons are serious enough. But until he's charged the matter, by law, is not yet in the Public Interest. So why should it be so in allowing the media and press to name suspects before they are charged - it's raping our legal system of the checks and balances put in place to protect the innocent.

I'm not against censorship but I do champion responsible press. Post the Jimmy Savile sex scandal society has become afraid of its own shadow as it judges others without fear or favour; sometimes right, often not; who can it trust, who's left to rot? The Savile revelations and subsequent fall out are raw and sensitive but we do need legal objectivity in order to deal with them as we would want and expect. Everyone deserves dignity and respect in the face of unfounded gossip, innuendo and character assassination.

Some campaigners argue that early publicity of a potential criminal case allows others to come forward. I don't buy that argument. Sacrificing a person's anonymity 'for the greater good' when they could actually be innocent is like allowing broad-sweep monitoring of all your employees only because you caught one of them dealing drugs in the staff canteen... one does it, so they all must do it (broad employee monitoring is illegal, by the way).

An interviewee on BBC news this morning also suggested that news stories leak and once on social media there would be no control over them. I partly agree. But social media can also bite back - it's not the legal 'no man's land' that many people seem to think, as Sally Bercow (the wife of the Speaker of the House of Commons) is fast finding out. And of course, there's also the matter of who leaked the story in the first place. Let's not forget that senior police officers have gone to prison recently for taking money off the press in return for a leaked story. Clearly we have an appetite for expecting high levels of integrity from those in public office.

It seems we've come full circle. It's ironic that the symbol of free speech, of  'Government of the People, by the People, for the People' is the one under direct attack.

Mr Speaker...

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