The Government is “not persuaded” by plans for anonymous arrests, according to a Home Office Minister.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Lord Paddick of Brixton wants police to be able to arrest people without releasing names to the public, making it illegal for anyone to publicly name them.
Lord Paddick claimed people like pop star Sir Cliff Richard (pictured) had their reputations ruined when allegations of historical child abuse made by four men were publicised, although he was neither arrested nor charged.
But speaking in the second reading of the Anonymity (Arrested Persons) Bill in the Lords, Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford refused to back the bill.
She said: “Restricting the freedom of the press is a serious matter and we are not yet persuaded that legislating in this instance would be a necessary or proportionate response to the perceived problems.
“We do recognise the importance of debating these issues and we will keep the position under review.”
Baroness Williams also said the balance between the freedom of the press and the right to privacy must be upheld, saying publicity encouraged victims to come forward and the #MeToo movement had been “a living testament to this”.
Applications to lift reporting restrictions would “risk adding potential delay to fast-moving investigations”, she added, as well as “placing additional burdens on our courts”.
“The Government is committed to protecting the freedom of the press and recognises of course a vibrant and free press plays such a valuable role in our culture and in democratic life,” she said.
“It isn’t clear that this is absolutely necessary – on the contrary existing arrangements with police do seem to strike a sensible balance.”
Lord Paddick said his bill would make it illegal for those arrested to be named by anyone and journalists would have to seek approval from a judge to release names in the public interest, such as to encourage potential rape victims to come forward.
He said: “Being arrested by the police lends credence to the allegations made.
“Members of the public, encouraged by the press and the media, form the impression there is no smoke without fire if the police have gone as far as to arrest the individual.
“We have to face the reality that, in the eyes of the public, people are no longer considered to be innocent until proven guilty by a court.”
Lord Paddick, formerly deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan Police, dismissed concerns the change would have prevented serial rapist John Worboys from being convicted.
Lib Dem colleague Lord Marks of Henley-on-Thames agreed, claiming concerns raised by charities supporting victims of rape and abuse would be addressed by judicial appeals and saying “we have to trust the judges” to decide.
He said: “The argument that people won’t come forward – he mentions the Worboys case but it’s often used particularly in cases of domestic and sexual violence – but I just wonder whether that’s true.
“People who might not otherwise come forward because they are frightened and deterred by what’s happened to them do gain courage from the fact there is publicity about particular suspects… it seems to me a judge is entitled to weigh up those features of the case and come to a just conclusion.”
Lord Marks also questioned whether lifelong anonymity for victims of sex offences should be revised and went on to suggest the balance needed to be tipped back in favour of the suspect.
He said: “When you look at the issue of justice for the uncharged suspect and you balance that against justice to the public, often as purchasers of prurient newspapers or listening to television programmes trying to improve ratings… I think it’s important to have regard to both sides.”
Labour peer Lord Campbell-Savours said he was “appalled” at the “destruction of reputations”, such as the ongoing inquiry into child abuse allegations against the late Lord Janner of Braunstone.
Shadow Home Affairs Minister Lord Kennedy of Southwark accepted media scrutiny could cause “damage and devastation” for the accused but, on balance, he thought “publicity is useful”.
“I also recognise that the responsible publishing of identities has in cases encourage victims to come forward,” he said, listing the cases of convicted paedophiles Rolf Harris, Stuart Hall and wife-beater and former SNP MSP Bill Walker.
“People did come forward and that in the end enabled those men to be brought to justice for their crimes.
“But I do think [this bill] has highlighted an important issue and the situation isn’t right at the present time but I can’t see [the bill] making much more progress.”
Picture: Victoria Jones/PA Wire