Is it right to name defendants?

  WhiteTruckMan 11:23 23 Dec 06
Locked

I am thinking about the guy who has been arrested and charged with the murder of the 5 women in the news. But it does go further than that. In rape cases accusers have the right to anonymity, but defendents almost always have their names splashed in the media.

I am all for the public exposure of the guilty but surely one of the foundations of our justice system is the premise that someone is innocent untill proven guilty? Untill that guilty verdict is announced someone could be freed as an innocent person, to have their lives completely ruined through adverse publicity thanks to trial by media.

When someone has been picked up and/or charged for a high profile crime (or even that euphamistic phrase 'helping the police with their enquiries') you can successfully argue that there is a public interest in the matter, but do the public have a 'right' to know the name(s) of suspects?

If the police actually want to publicise someones name, for instance in an appeal to the public for information about a suspects movements, Perhaps they should have to appear in front of a judge and justify the reasons why they want to do so?

What do you think? is it too much to ask to want the authorities to keep your name out of the public eye while you at least get a fair trial?
Or are there still people out there who think that 'they must be guilty of something or the police wouldnt have picked them up' and that a trial is simply a formality to be observed?

WTM

  anskyber 11:33 23 Dec 06

I think this is an issue outside of the police. In the Suffolk murders case the first man detained was at no point named by the police.

The media did all the hyping and I remain very sceptical of the BBC for playing the audio tape of the first man. So for me this is not about the police, its more to do with the "freedom" of the press to report things "in the public interest"

On balance, if the press behave responsibly, I would rather see a press which is as free as possible to report items which at times can go to the heart of Goverment. journalism at its very best requires freedoms.

  jack 11:53 23 Dec 06

This is absolutely right that an individual should have anonymity,in all cases until the matter comes to court.
In the Suffolk cases the first individual publicised himself- and I notice not withstanding this the Police in their announcement emphasised they were not naming the released individual- although his name and image was well known by then.

  dx486 11:56 23 Dec 06

The point of law is that an individual is innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.

  Forum Editor 13:14 23 Dec 06

He hasn't exactly been leading a 'normal' life up to now.

  Forum Editor 13:28 23 Dec 06

who was released on bail - that was done by the media, and he aided and abetted the process in no uncertain terms. It was he who sought publicity, and that's precisely what he's received.

The second man was named because he's been charged with five murders, and the police obviously hope that by making his identity known they'll encourage people who may know something to come forward.

  Main Access 14:58 23 Dec 06

This is a difficult and emotive one.
I for one thought that Mr Huntley, if he had a decent lawyer could of possibly made the claim that his trial was unfair because of the fact that whatever the evidence said, he had been hung and drawn by the media before his trial ever took place. The press are now putting themselves in front of the law by baying to the demands of the populace by naming the arrested parties and providing the case for the prosecution. It won’t be long before a guilty person is let off because the judiciary cannot guarantee a fair trial.

  MichelleC 17:26 23 Dec 06

I can see and understand both views, but I think there should be a 'd' notice slapped on the media to not disclose accused's names. That's precisely why the chief super had to comment at the end of his press release for the media to report properly so as to not prejudice the case. once his name's released it's open season for all sorts of stories to come out. The police have enough resources by forensic and dna methods to be able to secure a strong conviction. Even the CPA guy was there and they're very particular what evidence is sufficient to prosecute.
In the case of rape it does have a damaging effect on their lives to name the accused men even when they've been innocent. It takes months, even years to get to court and all are pointing accusing fingers at them so it's impossible for them to lead a normal life, even years after their innocence is declared.

  Kate B 18:45 23 Dec 06

click here html for an interesting commentary by Magnus Linklater on the law on contempt of court. I was talking about this on the BBC last week, too.

The law is that you can't publish anything that might be prejudicial to a fair trial. Strictly speaking, once proceedings are "active", all you can report is the name, address and charge brought against someone. Police will argue with you about when proceedings are defined as active: I believe it's still the case that technically they're active once someone is charged; however the police always tell you it's from when someone is arrested. That's a matter for debate.

However, as Linklater points out, the growth of the web means that the strict definition is impossible to police. Courts do take it very seriously indeed - it costs a fortune to scrap a trial if a newspaper is daft enough or gung-ho enough to publish something that compromises the trial and newspapers have more than once had massive and expensive slaps on the wrist for it.

The point, though, these days is that juries are understood to be pretty sensible and capable of disregarding information during the course of a trial. I don't know if that's actually the case or whether it's wishful thinking but either way, because it's impossible to hold every blog in contempt if bloggers are speculating wildly about someone being fingered for a crime, the way the law is interpreted and implemented is changing.

Incidentally, it's also required that if a newspaper reports the beginning of a case it must report the verdict, too, so that any named defendant who is found not guilty has their name cleared in the press.

  Kate B 18:46 23 Dec 06

Sorry, link didn't work click here

  WhiteTruckMan 21:43 23 Dec 06

One is that the guilty may go free by claiming the impossibility of a fair trial thanks to adverse publicity (but this argument should in theory be open to the innocent as well as the guilty).

The other is that when the innocent are found to be such there will always be people who believe the accused 'got away with it' rather than being innocent. Apart from damaging someones good name and reputation, there is always the danger of someone taking the law into their own hands.

Of course, if someone is silly enough or naive enough to put their details into the public domain then all bets are off...


WTM

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