The Society of Editors has hit out at “absurd” suggestions by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland that those with a reputation to protect should have their identities kept secret if arrested over alleged serious crimes.
As reported in The Times this morning, Mr Buckland said he was in favour of anonymity for “reputable” people arrested for alleged sex offences or other serious crimes until they were charged.
He also said that police would be permitted to release names of some suspects – such as those with previous convictions -where it was felt it would further their investigation.
However, his suggestions have been criticised by Society of Editors executive director Ian Murray, who said it would mean “the rich and powerful are given more protection than the rest of society.”
Mr Buckland told The Times: “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 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?”
In response, Ian said: “It is absurd to suggest that in a liberal democracy we are going to create a system of justice that enables the rich, the powerful, and celebrities to be protected when they are under investigation for serious crimes but the ordinary man or woman would be offered no such protections.
“There is also an absurdity in offering this protection to only some serious crimes and the obvious danger is eventually an argument would be put forward that anyone who has been arrested, for any crime, must remain anonymous until charged. What would exist is a state of affairs where the actions of the police when investigating and arresting citizens cannot be reported on by the media. This is surely one of the worst aspects of a totalitarian state.”
“The idea also that police will be able to release the names of some suspects they wish to expose means that those defendants will be tarnished with an assumption of guilt and this must lead to injustices.
“It is much better that in a free society the actions of the police are reported on and they are held accountable for those actions, which has been the case in recent high-profile incidents including the investigation into Sir Cliff Richard. Aside from the need to monitor the actions of the police, we cannot have a state of affairs in this country where the rich and powerful are given more protection than the rest of society.”