The squalid saga of secret arrests says much about how we are governed today – little of it good. To recap, Lord Justice Leveson suggested that the names of those arrested or suspected of crimes should not be released to the public or media “save in exceptional and clearly identified circumstances”. This was an offhand remark, at the tail-end of a section of his report dealing with the ethics of reporters accompanying police on raids. He provided no extended argument, or even justification, for reversing this long-established legal tradition.
Next, as part of a consultation on the new contempt of court rules, the Law Commission suggested that the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) should come up with clearer guidance on the issue. The commission made it clear that in the vast majority of cases, the names of those arrested should still be published. This is entirely right. For one thing, it lets the public know who the police have in custody, reassuring them that people are not being arbitrarily deprived of their liberty. For another, it helps ensure the conviction of the guilty: when the BBC presenter Stuart Hall was charged with sexual assault, it prompted many more victims to come forward.
Acpo, however, ignored such arguments, declaring that suspects should instead retain their anonymity to preserve them from damaged reputations. Police officers, its spokesmen suggested, should neither confirm nor deny the names of arrested suspects, leaving it to the press and public to hazard a guess at their identities. That guidance has now been rubber-stamped by the new College of Policing, and will be sent out to forces across the land (the guidance also requires officers to declare friendships with journalists, just as they already do with criminals).
\”Excuse me Mr. Plod. Do you have Tim Worstall banged up in custody?\”
\”I can neither confirm nor deny this\”.
Where other than a police state can the rozzers keep someone inside without letting people know? Lawyers, family, these sort of people?
Of course the names of those arrested, held, charged, should be public, just like the damn trials themselves should be. This isn\’t some marginal maybe, maybe not issue. It\’s at the heart of basic liberty. Secret arrests simply should not be allowed to happen.