Slamming the doors on the Hamilton precedent

 This one ain’t over until the fat lady sues (as she exclusively assured the News of the World she will). Or until she is herself sued for libel by the Hamiltons. Or their claim for wrongful arrest is settled.

But whatever, whenever, whoever and however, nothing is likely to be quite the same again when it comes to press handling of such high-profile allegations of sexual assault.

Stand by for the Lord Chancellor to remove the option for a rape accuser to market her right to anonymity. Nadine Milroy-Sloan (advised by Max Clifford) is reported to have waived her right in exchange for £75,000 from the News of the World. (Imagine what defence counsel might make of that.)

Since there is ready acceptance that the prospect of ordeal by publicity inhibits rape complaints, it will surely remain a criminal offence for the media to identify an accuser against her will. But how soon now before it is also an offence to do so without a judge’s permission?

True, the Hamiltons made much of the fact that Milroy-Sloan could anonymously accuse them of the vilest behaviour. True, the Hamiltons had sold to The Mail on Sunday their official copy of the tape of their interrogation under arrest.

But is the Lord Chancellor going to let further accusers and accused engage in such pre-trial run-throughs of unsworn and untested evidence for evaluation by every potential juror in the land?

The press may have done the couple a favour by running the transcript comprehensively rubbishing their accuser.

However, the copy tape was supplied simply to equip the Hamiltons for an informed defence.

The Crown Prosecution Service is going to want that loophole closed. Otherwise the precedent (if allowed to become a precedent) signals that it must brace itself for formal police interrogations to be reported verbatim outside the controlled context of a trial. And, moreover, before even a decision on whether there is a case to go to trial.

When such interviews are videotaped, then reality footage on TV could grab larger audiences than Big Brother. After a run of splashes, spreads and clips prejudicing a trial either way (or even both ways) it would be difficult indeed to assemble an uncontaminated jury.

Is the Lord Chancellor likely to allow a climate in which justice, for accuser and accused, could be so routinely outmanoeuvred?

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