The Law Needs To Change To Allow Anonymity For Sexual Offences Suspects

The UK's Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice, Robert Buckland MP, faced criticism earlier this month by suggesting that the anonymity of those suspected of serious crime should be respected until they are charged with any offence if they have a reputation to protect. Many agree that the time has come for change, with the early publication of a suspect's name in an investigation, particularly those involving sexual offences, having the potential for devastating consequences. While the protection of lifelong anonymity for complainants in sexual offences, regardless of the outcome of any police investigation, is enshrined in law, no equivalent protection exists for suspects.

The debate into the anonymity of individuals under investigation prior to any decision to charge was recently ignited after the trial and conviction of Carl Beech, who falsely accused senior political figures of sexual abuse and murder. This was against the backdrop of a string of recent high-profile investigations into sexual offences - and an announcement earlier this year that Sir Cliff Richard has publicly backed the Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform ('FAIR') organisation - highlighting the need for action.

Following a lengthy police investigation into the claims made by Beech, no criminal charges were ever brought against those that he had accused. His claims were found to be false, and in subsequent proceedings, he was sentenced to 18 years' imprisonment for perverting the course of justice. The devastating impact of his false claims were described as "monstrous" and labelled "smears of the very worst kind" during the sentence hearing. The senior political figures, who had been accused, described the devastating impact that the false claims had on their lives. It is true that a unique stigma attaches to allegations of sexual offences and those accused often face catastrophic consequences in terms of damage to their reputations and ability to work or study. Investigations regularly take many months, sometimes years, before a decision is taken whether to prosecute. For most, the damage is indelible.

"The detrimental impact of being accused of a sexual offence and the stigma attached reaches far wider than just those within the public eye. Strong arguments also exist that these statutory measures should not just be confined to suspects facing sexual allegations."

The concept of extending anonymity to protect the identity of those suspected of sexual...

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