Government Not Persuaded By Bid For Pre-Charge Anonymity

The Government is not supporting a Bill to make it unlawful for the identity of an arrested person to be published before they were charged with an offence, saying the existing arrangements “strike a sensible balance.”  

Speaking this week in the House of Lords debate on Second Reading  of the Anonymity (Arrested Persons) Bill tabled by Lord Paddick, Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford said the Government was “not yet persuaded that legislating in this instance would be a necessary or proportionate.”

The Bill comes after the BBC announced that it would not be appealing the judgment in the Sir Cliff Richard case leading to publishers voicing fears for press freedom and public oversight of the criminal justice system.

Speaking in the debate Baroness Williams said: “The Government are committed to protecting the freedom of the press and recognise that a vibrant and free press plays such a valuable role in our cultural and democratic life. How lucky we are to have our free press. We want to make sure that it continues, with high journalistic standards and with work absolutely in the public interest.

“The Bill would replace this administrative system with a requirement for the chief constable to apply to a Crown Court judge for a direction that reporting restrictions be lifted. This risks adding potentially dangerous delay in fast-moving investigations as well as placing additional burdens on our courts.”

She continued: “It is not clear that this is necessary. On the contrary, the existing arrangements for the police seem to strike a sensible balance.

“There are precedents for placing restrictions on the freedom of the press to report the identities of, for example, victims of sexual offences, but restricting press freedom 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 problem.

“It would certainly be premature to take action ahead of the HMICFRS review, which I hope will enhance our understanding of policing practice in this area. We recognise the importance of debating these issues and we will keep the position under review.”