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.
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. 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The provisions granting anonymity to the accused were repealed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.
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;
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
7. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir
Bernard Hogan-Howe, said he supported the proposal for granting
accused people anonymity until charge.
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.
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
Police communication with the
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.
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".
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
The guidance says that further information can be released at
the point of charge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The recent media coverage of a police search of Sir Cliff Richard's
home has shown again the impact that one leak can have.
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.
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
Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, section 5 Back
Home Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of 2002-03, Sexual Offences Bill,
HC 639 Back
MP Pritchard urges review of rape anonymity after case dropped,
BBC 6 January 2015 Back
Policing in London, 10 March 2015, Q62 Back
Qq 116-117 Back
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
Leveson Inquiry: Media vilified me, Christopher Jefferies says,
BBC, 28 November 2011 Back
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
Law Commission, Contempt of Court: A Consultation Paper, November
2012, Para 2.19-2.20 Back
Leveson Report, Vol 2, Part G, chapter 4, par 2.39 Back
College of Policing, Guidance on Relationships with the Media,
May 2013 Back
Q 76 Back
College of Policing, Guidance on Relationships with the Media,
May 2013 Back
Q 39 Back
Q 37 Back
Q 10 Back
Q 12-13 Back
Home Affairs Committee, Fifth Report of Session 2014-15, Police, the media, and high-profile criminal investigations,
HC 629 Back
Q 77 Back