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Protection of people arrested on suspicion of an offence but not yet charged – restore presumption of innocence and ensure media react accordingly

Comment 7th July 2010

Until a suspect is charged of an offence, the rules of sub judice do not come into effect, This means that following arrest on suspicion of committing an offence but prior to charging, the media are free to publish what they want, as they are not in contempt of court.

My idea is that, as a suspect is to be presumed innocent until he/she has been found guilty  in a court of law, the media are restricted to printing only the name, age, local authority of the person arrested, and a passport sized photo. This is enough for the public interest (all I need to know is that the police are working on the case and have a suspect) and also enough to enable the police to seek further information (if anyone knows what Mr Bloggs has been up to etc), but not enough to prevent a suspect who may not have actually committed an offence from living a normal life once the police investigation is completed.

Why does this matter?

There have been some high profile cases recently where media have published a great deal of information about a suspect prior to charging. Stephen Griffiths (who has been remanded in custody regarding the Bradford Prostitute murders) – prior to his charge there was enough information in the papers for me to find his address, pets, hobbies, and to put me off possibly employing/befriending him for life. Please note at this point, the police didn't even have enough information to charge him. I am also in a position that if I am called for jury service on this case, I will have a prejudiced opinion on his guilt from the information in the newspapers. Everybody is entitled to a fair trial – victims and accused. If my prejudiced opinion was enough to allow him to appeal (if guilty) and get off of charges, that is not fair on the victims. Equally, if my prejudiced opinion is enough to make me find him guilty and he is not, then the true perpetrator will get away with the crime – also not fair on the victims.

 

In Ipswich a few years ago, a man was arrested on suspicion of prostitute murders, but was then released without charge, prior to Stephen Wright being charged and tried for the murders. This man had all his personal details published in the papers including, I recall, his regular purchasing of ready meals for 1 – hardly something which proves guilt or innocence for murder!

I fear that one day, somebody will have a trial thrown out due to prejudicial information being publilshed in newspapers, especially in this digital age where back copies can be found on the internet. Equally somebody who is not guilty, and never even gets charged, could have their lives ruined because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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