By Mariella Brown and Bill Heaney
The Society of Editors has expressed deep concerns over comments made by Justice Secretary Robert Buckland, seeming to call for the introduction of anonymity for some people arrested on serious charges.
Reported in The Times, Mr Buckland said that he was in favour of anonymity for someone arrested for alleged sex offences or other serious crimes until they were charged, but only if they had a reputation to protect.
The Justice Secretary also said that police would be permitted to release names of some suspects where it was felt it would further their investigation.
However, the Society of Editors said that these proposals were completely unjust, would create a two-tier system that protected only the rich and powerful, and would threaten open justice in a free society.
“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,” said Ian Murray, Executive Director of the Society of Editors.
“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.”
Murray added: “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.”