New Justice Secretary Robert Buckland has backed a campaign by singer Sir Cliff Richard and DJ Paul Gambaccini calling for sex offence suspects to remain anonymous until charged, according to a report.
The move, reported by the Times, was welcomed by Daniel Janner QC, son of the late Lord Janner of Braunstone QC, and founder of pressure group Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform, or Fair.
The newspaper reported Buckland (pictured) as saying those with reputations to protect should remain anonymous while suggesting anonymity would be less justifiable for those of worse character.
He told the paper: “Let’s say you are a reputable local business person who is accused of fraud. Your good name is going to be really undermined by this mere accusation. That might be a meritorious case for anonymity.”
But 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 Chris Henley, chairman of the Criminal Bar Association, 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.”
Following the report, Janner told PA he was “delighted”, saying: “This will introduce fairness into the criminal justice system and is a reform that is long overdue.
“I am proud that Fair, with the support of singer Sir Cliff Richard and DJ Paul Gambaccini and others, appears to have changed the laws of this country for the good.”
A petition launched by Janner aimed to “provide balance in the criminal justice system”, avoid suspects becoming “targets of opportunist and deluded claimants” as well as preventing “police searches of the homes of suspects who have not been charged being publicised”.
It currently has 27,373 signatures.
Sir Cliff and Mr Gambaccini were both falsely accused of historical sex offences, while Janner’s father, the late Lord Janner of Braunstone QC, faced allegations of child sex abuse before his death.
The family of the former Labour peer have always maintained his innocence.
The Society of Editors, which represents nearly 400 members made up from senior editorial staff on UK news publications, has criticised the proposed law change.
Executive director Ian Murry said: “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.
“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.”
Picture: Kirsty O’Connor/PA Wire