Of course, there is another solution to the impasse over defendant anonymity until conviction in sexual offence cases. It’s an idea which those who argue for a free and open press and a transparent justice system might well appreciate.
It’s this. Repeal the law providing complainants in sexual offence cases with anonymity. Indeed, make it possible that their names and general location will be available to the public.
In this way, we can flip the arguments that those such as Emily Thornberry put forward on their head.
She has argued that publicizing the name of a suspect in these cases may well enable the public to make further complaint against the same person. Equally, for all we know, a given complainant might be – might well be – a serial complainant. Thus, publicizing their name and where they live might allow others who have been the subject of previous (false) complaints to have their memory jogged and come forward, etc, etc.
Likewise, anonymity may not be (according to her argument, at least) in the complainant’s best interests, because, if it is alleged against that person that they have lied, exculpatory witness will not know to come forward to support them either. And, arguably, if it is likely that the identity of a complainant is known, there is less risk that people will fabricate allegations, as indeed they sometimes do.
Meanwhile, Sir Cliff Richard has canceled his involvement which would have given him the freedom of the town in Portugal where he sometimes lives, and he has now been interviewed under caution, surrendering voluntarily and strenuously denying the truth of the allegations.
For the moment, those watching the story unfold are divided between those who will now (on the basis of no evidence whatsoever) perceive him “warily” because, after all, child abuse is (apparently!!) “the new “normal” in the land of fame and fortune”, and those such as Charlie Brooker, who points out that “Cliff hasn’t been charged or found guilty of anything, except on the internet, where he’s already serving concurrent 140-character sentences”.
Perhaps the justified brouhaha over the way the police and the BBC handled all of this will lead to a watershed moment where justice is offered to suspects as well as complainants.
In any event, let’s have it one way or the other. Anonymity for complainants and suspects in these cases. Or open season for all of them. Except that the latter isn’t going to happen any time soon. And probably not the former either.