Protecting the identity of arrested people is fair and reasonable, given the harm exposure can do.
The Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) has proposed a blanket ban on the police revealing the identities of individuals arrested as part of criminal investigations. This has sparked widespread controversy, with critics arguing that concealing the identity of an arrested individual is not in the public interest as it may prevent victims or witnesses coming forward.
The Daily Telegraph recently stated that it is “a fundamental democratic right for the public to know who the police have in custody and why”. But what about the rights of those vilified by the revelation they have been arrested when they are innocent?
The proposed policy is defended by Acpo because it is intended to protect people who are arrested but are innocent. This is necessary because, unfortunately, many members of the public wrongly believe an arrest must mean someone has done something wrong. As such, the report of an arrest often can have far-reaching consequences for an individual, causing irreparable damage to their reputation and so to their employment, their future job prospects, their family and their standing in the community, with little or no recompense.
As Acpo acknowledges, an arrest is not indicative of guilt, yet is likely to generate publicity, whereas there is no publicity when no further action is taken. The individual and their family are left to pick up the pieces.
The case of Stuart Hall has been reported widely in support of the public interest being served if the names of those arrested are revealed in the public domain. Apparently, Lancashire Constabulary has said the publicity after Hall’s arrest encouraged many of his victims to come forward. This, of course, fails to appreciate that Acpo has highlighted that the proposal is that the ban on confirming identity will cease after a person has been charged and so does not preclude a person being prosecuted for other acts reported at a later stage.
In addition, Acpo has installed a safety feature in that a reviewing officer may, on the basis that it is in the interests of justice to encourage victims and witnesses to come forward, decide to permit the publication of an arrested person’s name. This will ensure a degree of scrutiny and justification in releasing an arrested person’s name, which is not currently the case.
Some argue the police are using the Leveson report to covertly curtail the freedom of the press but the proposed policy seeks to regulate the actions of police officers not journalists. The reporting of an arrest is still a matter for editors; the only difference is that journalists will not get confirmation of an individual’s arrest from police sources.
Adopting the ‘no names’ policy can only be a fair and proportionate measure to mitigate the effects of arrest without charge. It is a small adjustment to accommodate the changing nature and scale of police operations, and the safeguards canvassed show critics’ objections to be unreasonable and, in many instances, self-serving.