UK arrest guidelines are a shift towards secrecy
21 May 2013

Justice is better served by openness and transparency, writes Padraig Reidy

The College of Policing yesterday released guidelines recommending that officers not name arrested individuals, apart from in exceptional circumstances. This has caused considerable concern. And rightly so.

ACPO insists that the shift it proposes to introduce is a slight one: already, they say, many forces have a policy of neither confirming nor denying names. The proposals would make this national policy.

This position seems simple. But what’s actually going on here is troubling.

We are witnessing an institutional shift towards secrecy. Where once we assumed that information about our justice system should be in the open, unless there was a very good reason for it not to be, we’re now in a situation where increasingly the assumption is that information should only be released for a reason. Whose reason?

There is an argument that people named on arrest, when innocent, will still carry the report of the smear with them for the rest of their lives. While that may be true, more secrecy is not the answer.  Without clear facts, malicious rumours can fly and perhaps affect even more innocent people.

As legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg wrote: “The problem highlighted […] is that innocent people are sometimes arrested. The solution is not to confine news of arrests to the internet rumour-mill. It is for the public to understand that, sometimes, there can be smoke without fire.”

Anonymity and secrecy may be necessary in limited circumstances. But the police and the courts should remember that justice must be done, and justice must be seen to be done.

Padraig Reidy is Senior Writer for Index on Censorship. Follow him on Twitter @mePadraigReidy
An edited version of this article was published in the Sun

Padraig Reidy

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