Defendants in sex offence trials were granted anonymity until 1988. The debate has been reignited in the wake of Operation Yewtree, the probe into child abuse by Jimmy Savile, and other high-profile allegations. Michael Le Vell, Coronation Street actor, was recently acquitted of sex offence charges, and Rolf Harris and Nigel Evans, former Deputy Speaker, will stand trial in the spring. In a recent ComRes/Independent survey three-quarters supported anonymity until conviction. Should the law be reversed?
YES–AC Grayling: In general I am opposed to anonymity, especially in blogs and on Twitter. Anonymity is a mask behind which people can hide when they say or write unpleasant and aggressive things, and this happens far too often. To argue that anonymity promotes a democracy of debate by allowing people to speak their minds freely is wholly unconvincing: it merely promotes malice. Matters might be different in China or Saudi Arabia where only officially-approved opinions are expressible, but in societies like ours there isno excuse for sneaking behind pseudonyms. If people have an opinion, let them stand up and be counted for it. If they wish to vituperate and sneer, let them do it under their own names and accept the consequences.
The exception is when people are arrested, irrespective of the crime, but most particularly on suspicion of crimes which carry a great deal of stigma, such as sexual offences. The general public expects the police and the Crown Prosecution Service to have good reason to arrest and indict someone on suspicion of criminality, so if a person is arrested and indicted but has his or her innocence established by the end of the grueling process thus begun, stigma and suspicion are likely to remain. Great harm is done to people in this way. Yet the harm is avoidable: only those found guilty of crimes should be publicly named. The presumption of innocence should be honoured, avoiding the jeopardy of causing serious injury to the innocent.
NO–Emily Thornberry: I am firmly of the view that bringing in anonymity for suspects, particularly for rape suspects, would be against the interest of justice. Reporting that someone has been arrested does not undermine the presumption of innocence. Being arrested is a statement of fact. Guilt is decided by a jury alone. We have laws on crime reporting and contempt of court to underpin this. Bringing in anonymity would actually confuse…