Sunday 30 January 2011

New reporting restriction on suspects proposed

Senior ministers are backing a change in the law to stop the media identifying crime suspects before they are charged, the Sunday Times reports today.

Kenneth Clarke, the justice secretary, and Dominic Grieve, the attorney-general, are supporting a backbench MP’s attempt to introduce reporting restrictions.

The Sunday Times says: "If the bill became law it would mean that no newspaper or broadcaster could name someone arrested or questioned by the police until after a decision had been made to charge the person with a crime."

The step, which would be without precedent in English law, is being proposed in a bill tabled by Conservative MP Anna Soubry.

If the measure was in place now the identity of the retired Bristol schoolmaster Chris Jefferies, who was the subject of much media speculation while being questioned over the murder Joanna Yeates, could never have been reported.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, tells the paper: “It sounds like a simple and easy measure but it’s a complex issue. The public are entitled to know when someone is arrested and not naming people who are arrested only leads to speculation and rumour in place of absolute fact."

  • The Sunday Times is behind a paywall.

1 comment:

Steve Dyson said...

Very naive bill based only on knee-jerk reaction to high-profile cases. Arrest is a very powerful tool and those in custody often need protection... no naming removes that. Remember Pinochet and the missing thousands? That aside, arrests are often in the public domain anyway... or at least people know/see police action in their street and know the house/houses involved, but maybe not the individual suspect. No naming here would lead to rumours, speculation and Chinese whispers. Naming suspects arrested can also lead to new evidence in cases. What Soubry should do is to make her bill one which INSISTS on adherence to Contempt of Court Act 1981, ensuring that ALL media (red-top nationals included) have to deal with arrests in the same way they deal with magistrates court appearances.