Sex crime suspects should remain anonymous in some cases, says Justice Secretary
Suspects accused of serious crimes, including sex offences, should be granted anonymity if they have a reputation to protect, according to the Justice Secretary.
According to the Times Robert Buckland is supporting a campaign by Sir Cliff Richard and Paul Gambaccini to ban the naming of those arrested on suspicion of rape and other sex crimes.
The new Lord Chancellor - who was promoted in Boris Johnson's first reshuffle - also said there was “merit” in extending the rule to all serious offences.
College of Policing guidelines currently advise officers to not publish suspects’ names until they are charged, but this does not stop them being identified by other means.
Sir Cliff and Mr Gambaccini launched their campaign after their identities were revealed after they were accused of historical sexual offences but never charged..
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?”
But the campaign has sparked a backlash from police and prosecutors who argue naming suspects before charge assists with gathering evidence.
Victims Commissioner Dame Vera Baird said: “There is sometimes a public interest in disclosing the name of an arrestee prior to charge if there may be a prospect of other complainants stepping forward.”
Criminal Bar Association chair Chris Henley also rejected the plan for creating a “two-tier system” and weakening the principle of open justice.
“Open, transparent justice is a fundamental principle of our system,” he told the paper.
“The law must be applied equally whoever you are; money and apparent status should never be a card that can be played by the powerful to hide behind.”
Mr Buckland has warned that sex offences should not be treated differently from other crimes.
He added: “It would be wrong to single out particular types of offence that could attract anonymity.
“That is a misconceived approach.”
Reacting to the Justice Secretary's remarks, Labour MP Stella Creasy tweeted: "Not this old chestnut! Tell you what @RobertBuckland bring this in for ALL crimes, not just those where majority of victims are women, and you might have a case. Otherwise you're basing actual law making on the belief women lie. Really thought you were better than this tbh..."
Mr Buckland replied: "Thanks for the tweet, Stella. I agree that particular crimes should not be singled out, particularly sexual allegations."