THE acquittal of two more Sun journalists on charges relating to misconduct in a public office has prompted blogging lawyers Adam Tudor and Isabella Piasecka to come perilously close to suggesting crime suspects be given the right to anonymity before any charges are brought.
While I admire their defence of the journalists’ treatment under the Metropolitan Police’s discredited Operation Elveden, I fear they are adding fuel to the fire of those seeking further curbs on the Press.
The freedom to name arrested people is an important one, though it is actually quite rarely exercised. Newspapers recognise the damage it can do (and the legal recourse a wronged person has) and will usually only name suspects on sound public interest grounds.
The police believe they should be the ones who make the call on public interest rather than the media, and their stance is that names should be withheld in normal circumstances. Publishers remain able to identify suspects without police co-operation if they are confident in their facts.
It is an arrangement that rests uneasily with many editors, but I can live with it as long as the naming of suspects is not restricted by law.
The prospect of the police being free to make arrests in secret is chilling, and risks undermining one of the most important principles of English law: clause 39 of the Magna Carta, which established that no one should be arrested or imprisoned except by the judgement of their equals and according to the law of the land.
If you do not know a friend or relative has been arrested how do you, or the media on your behalf, protest about the rights or wrongs of it, including the length of time they are put on bail?
I have blogged on this subject previously here. Former chief constable Andy Trotter explains the police stance on the issue here. Former attorney general Dominic Grieve’s support of naming suspects is here.