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Should Defendants facing sex charges be anonymous?

For some time now there has been a debate about whether it is fair that people charged with sex crimes have their names released before they are convicted.

The call for anonymity has increased recently with a campaign led by Sir Cliff Richard who was famously named and shamed even before charge. In his case the BBC filmed the police attending his property. His reputation was harmed with many taking the ‘no smoke without fire’ view and despite the fact that he never faced charges there are many who will still think he ‘got away with it’

The ‘no smoke without fire’ view is the very reason why people are calling for anonymity. We would wholeheartedly agree with the campaign for anonymity. False allegations wreck lives. Too many people led by the media believe that if someone is charged then they must have done something. A common view is that people get away with offences that they have committed because of clever lawyers. This view isn’t helped because of the way our system works. No one is ever found ‘innocent’. You are found guilty or not guilty and not guilty simply means that it has not been proven. That may be because the jury thought the defendant was entirely innocent or they may have leaned towards guilt but not been ‘certain’ which is the test they have to apply.

We are never going to change the system of guilty or not guilty and whilst ever that remains and we have a media that is happy to whip up a frenzy against defendants before guilt is proven then we are going to have a situation where innocent people’s lives are ruined by false allegations and the publicity that follows.

The argument in favour of naming suspects is that it encourages other victims to come forward and make a complaint.

I can see an argument for encouraging genuine victims to come forward and that the fact that one person has come forward may give other genuine victims courage to come forward. The concern is that there is a trend for false allegations, if the suspect is a celebrity then that leaves them even more vulnerable to more false allegations with unscrupulous people jumping on the bandwagon.

We have to be careful to avoid a situation where someone is put on trial for a number of offences and convicted simply because there is more than one person making an allegation. This type of action can only increase the ‘no smoke without fire’ comments. Surely if 2 or 3 people are saying the same thing then he must be guilty? The opportunity for people to make copycat complaints are increased by publicity.

Of course there is a balance. Men who commit these types of crimes should be brought to justice. They are despicable crimes that ruin lives but we have to make sure that only those genuine perpetrators are brought to justice. Just as these horrible crimes ruin lives so do false allegations. A false allegation will inevitably mean a father facing these allegations is kept from their children until the case is concluded (this can take as long as 2 years), most professionals will lose their career causing financial problems for their families.

 Any advantage of naming and shaming, such as encouraging genuine victims to come to court can still exist post-conviction. There is no reason why someone should not be named after they are convicted. The press can then run accurate stories based on the conviction and other victims can then come forward.

This also doesn’t prevent people making false allegations but it reduces it and it means that bandwagon false allegations are only made against those convicted.

It also does not deal with people falsely convicted. That does happen and it happens a lot.

We always do everything we can to make sure our clients don’t gt any adverse publicity. We can’t guarantee this and some of our clients have unfortunately ended up in the press but we understand how important it is to you to avoid this and you will never see us bragging about clients we act for.

If you are worried you may be the subject of intrusive media interest call us to see how we can help support you.

 

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