Police forces throughout England and Wales may soon have the option not to disclose the names of individuals charged with offences under new guidelines being drafted by the College of Policing.
While current guidelines state that suspects “should be named”, the proposed changes would allow forces to decide on a case-by-case basis, considering data protection compliance and the necessity of disclosure.
The guidelines still encourage identifying charged individuals for the sake of transparency and open justice.
The draft guidelines suggest that forces should be more likely to release information about charges involving serious crimes, such as rape or murder, or when incidents have already been reported in the media or on social media platforms or for public reassurance.
Journalists have expressed concern that these changes could undermine open justice. Rebecca Camber, crime and security editor of the Daily Mail and chair of the Crime Reporters Association, stated that this move seems “completely inappropriate.”
News groups also oppose existing guidelines in the College of Policing’s media relations guide, which dictate that identities of people dealt with by cautions, speeding fines, and other fixed penalties should not be released or confirmed.
The College of Policing has included a new section on data protection in its media guidance, highlighting the need for police forces to consider their obligations under the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the Data Protection Act.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) sees the proposed changes in media policy as driven by GDPR and the Data Protection Act.
An ICO spokesperson said that the principle of the UK’s open justice system means defendants’ names are likely to be published by the courts at trial, and police should make decisions based on public interest and individual privacy rights.
The Society of Editors is deeply concerned about the revised guidelines, believing that they could place unprecedented restrictions on information flow between the police and journalists.
The Society is in dialogue with the College of Policing to reverse these proposals and strengthen the public’s right to know.
A spokesperson for the College of Policing emphasised the importance of a strong relationship between the police service and the media and said that they are working with the Society of Editors, the Crime Reporters Association, and the ICO to develop new guidance to be published soon.
The current guidelines and the proposed guidelines for naming individuals charged with an offence by the College of Policing are as follows:
- Those charged with an offence – including those who receive a summons to court – should be named unless there is an exceptional and legitimate policing purpose for not doing so or reporting restrictions to apply. This information can be given at the point of charge. A decision not to name an individual who has been charged should be taken in consultation with the CPS.
- Forces should proactively release charging information where the crime is of a serious nature, such as rape or murder, where the incident has already been reported in the media or on social media sites, or for public reassurance reasons.
- Those charged with an offence – including those who receive a summons to court – can be named at the point of charge. The naming of individuals on charge is encouraged on the grounds of open justice and transparency. This should be done on a case-by-case basis to ensure that data protection compliance is considered and the necessity and justifications for each disclosure are documented. The ICO’s data-sharing hub provides further information.
- Forces should be more inclined to release charging information where the crime is of a serious nature, such as rape or murder, where the incident has already been reported in the media or on social media sites, or for public reassurance reasons. In some instances, it may not be appropriate to name those charged, for example, where there is an exceptional and legitimate policing purpose for not doing so or reporting restrictions to apply.
The proposed guidelines shift from the current stance of “should be named” to a more case-by-case approach, considering data protection compliance, necessity, and justifications for disclosure.
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I still think people involved in HISTORICAL abuse should not be named, but you can certainly give clues, and then those affected would know.
How many celebs were tarred with this brush before being found innocent or the accuser was just after money n was a false claim.
Rape is such a horrible crime, but there are men who have been found innocent, but forever tarred. Even when it’s come to light later, that the accusations were fake, people still tarr the person with … No smoke without fire, … and this is why I feel until guilty comes from court, they shouldn’t be named.
With sex and abuse related crimes are so sensitive, but also extremely emotive amongst the general public. If someone is later found to be innocent their lives are ruined for life, and they didn’t do anything.
You have a responsibility to protect the innocent until found guilty too.
The press n media are pure sensationalists, and don’t care what effect they have on people’s lives.
Innocent until proven guilty. Given the love of the media for lurid details, regardless of their veracity, this seems sensible.
Even in the most serious of cases, if guilt is not proved, the court of public opinion will end up smearing the defendant and potentially ruining their lives. This particularly applies to accusations of rape and offences against children.
The innocent must be protected up until the point of conviction. Then by all means let the mob get at them. Serve them right.