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2  Anonymity before charge

Anonymity of defendants

4. The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976 initially introduced anonymity for complainants, initially only in rape cases, but subsequently extended to other sex offences.[9] It is a criminal offence to publicly reveal the identity of the complainant for the duration of their life, starting from the point the complaint is made, and the editor, proprietor, or publisher of a newspaper or periodical can be held personally liable for doing so.[10] 1976 Act also included anonymity provisions for defendants. In 1984, the Criminal Law Revision Committee reported on the issue, saying that there was no reason to distinguish rape defendants from defendants of other crimes and that the argument about equality between the parties was not a valid one "despite its superficial attractiveness". The provisions granting anonymity to the accused were repealed in the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and accused persons currently have no entitlement to anonymity.

5. During its inquiry into the Sexual Offences Bill 2003, our predecessor 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. The Committee recommended that the reporting restriction available to complainants of sexual offences be extended to suspects in sexual offences, for the time between allegation and charge.[11]

6. The question of the anonymity of the accused is once again the subject of public debate, for two reasons: the first is the number of well-known people arrested as part of Operation Yewtree and other, related investigations;[12] the second is the very recent advent of social media, which facilitates the public discussion of these matters among many thousands of people in a way that is unprecedented in human history, and has the potential to amplify the reputational damage done by naming a suspect.

7. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, said he supported the proposal for granting accused people anonymity until charge.[13] He told us that the Metropolitan Police had refused to confirm identities of people who were under investigation, even when the name had already been put in the public domain. Alison Saunders, the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that the Crown Prosecution Service did not reveal a suspect's identity pre-charge.[14]

8. Newspapers and the media are prohibited from revealing the name of a person who is the victim of an alleged sexual offence. We recommend that the same right to anonymity should also apply to the person accused of the crime, unless and until they are charged with an offence.

9. The anonymity of the person making the complaint currently lasts for their lifetime. We do not wish to see that changed.

Police communication with the media

10. The impact of relations between the media and police is relevant in a wide range of cases, not just sexual offences. The media coverage of Christopher Jeffries, arrested in December 2010 for the murder of Joanna Yeates in Bristol, was criticised for breaching the Contempt of Court Act 1981.[15] Mr Jeffries said the tabloid press went on a "frenzied campaign to blacken [his] character" by publishing allegations that were a mix of "smear, innuendo and complete fiction".[16] Another man, Vincent Tabak, was subsequently convicted of murdering Miss Yeates. Eventually, two newspapers were found guilty of contempt of court, and a total of eight newspapers made public apologies and agreed to pay Mr Jeffries substantial damages.[17] A Law Commission review following the Jeffries case recommended that ACPO issue guidance to all police saying that "generally" the names of those arrested can be released.[18] The Leveson Report recommended that the guidance to police should be that the names of those arrested should not be released to the press, except in "exceptional circumstances".[19]

11. In May 2013, guidance on police relations with the media was published. It said that there was nothing to prevent police from naming an arrested person if there was a policing reason to do so, but that:

    Decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis but, save in clearly identified circumstances, or where legal restrictions apply, the names or identifying details of those who are arrested or suspected of a crime should not be released by police forces to the press or the public.[20]

Chief Constable Chris Eyre said that on those rare occasions when someone is formally named, it was a decision by the senior investigating officer, taking into account the value of doing so and the nature of the crime under investigation.[21] The guidance says that further information can be released at the point of charge.[22]

12. Kate Goold of Bindmans, and solicitor for Mr Paul Gambaccini, agreed there could be cases where it was appropriate for the police to give out information, such as in the case of serial sex offender John Warboys, where the police could, with permission of the court, make a suspect's name public.[23] But these circumstances would be caught within the rules for formal releases. This is not what happened in the case of Paul Gambaccini, and he said he could not find who made his name public:

    When everyone on my case says, "But we're not leaking your name to the press", I am not accusing them of leaking my name. It only takes one. I do not know who leaked my name to the press but the only other possibility is the tabloid newspapers have ESP.[24]

He said he was a victim of a "fly paper" investigation, whereby a suspect's name is hung up in public to see if it attracts further complainants.[25] Once Mr Gambaccini's name was in the public domain, the BBC suspended him without pay, the result of which was lost income and legal fees of around £200,000.[26] The recent media coverage of a police search of Sir Cliff Richard's home has shown again the impact that one leak can have.[27]

13. There is a clear distinction between leaking, the informal release, of names or identity to the media, and the formal release of someone's identity. Chief Constable Eyre acknowledged the sensitivity of how the police interact with the media informally:

    In the world post-Leveson there is very acute awareness across the entire police service about the need to engage appropriately with the media and for information to only be made available in appropriate ways. We recognise the vulnerability.[28]

14. The police should not release information on a suspect to the media in an informal, unattributed way. If the police do release the name of a suspect it has to be limited to exceptional cases, such as for reasons of public safety.

15. It is in the interests of the police to demonstrate, post-Leveson, that there is zero tolerance for informal leaks to the press. Police forces need to monitor and publish the number of instances where the identity of a suspect in their area has found its way into the public domain without an attributed source.

9   Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 Back

10   Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, section 5  Back

11   Home Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of 2002-03, Sexual Offences Bill, HC 639  Back

12   MP Pritchard urges review of rape anonymity after case dropped, BBC 6 January 2015 Back

13   Policing in London, 10 March 2015, Q62 Back

14   Qq 116-117 Back

15   Contempt of Court Act 1981. Section 2(2) describes that conduct may be treated as contempt where a publication which creates a substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be seriously impeded or prejudiced. The maximum penalty under the Contempt of Court Act 1981 is two years' imprisonment or an unlimited fine Back

16   Leveson Inquiry: Media vilified me, Christopher Jefferies says, BBC, 28 November 2011 Back

17   Eight newspapers in libel payout to Chris Jefferies, Press Gazette, 29 July 2011. The Sun, Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, Daily Record, Daily Mail, Daily Star, The Scotsman and Daily Express http://www.pressgazette.co.uk/node/47609  Back

18   Law Commission, Contempt of Court: A Consultation Paper, November 2012, Para 2.19-2.20 Back

19   Leveson Report, Vol 2, Part G, chapter 4, par 2.39 Back

20   College of Policing, Guidance on Relationships with the Media, May 2013 Back

21   Q 76 Back

22   College of Policing, Guidance on Relationships with the Media, May 2013 Back

23   Q 39 Back

24   Q 37 Back

25   Q 10 Back

26   Q 12-13 Back

27   Home Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2014-15, Police, the media, and high-profile criminal investigations, HC 629  Back

28   Q 77 Back

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Prepared 20 March 2015