The recent spate of publicity about paedophile activity has once more raised the issue of ‘guilt by rumour and newspaper headlines’. The issue is exaggerated by the fact that ‘celebrity’ headlines attract greater scrutiny than that the ordinary citizen would experience. We have to ask the questions, Is this fair? Do such events enshrine the principles of ‘equal before the law’ and ‘innocent till proved guilty’?
The police, in this recent and well publicised case, must review if they would have been so dramatically diligent had the suspects not been celebrities. They may have felt that not to pursue the case would have shown deference to the celebrities involved. This is not to excuse them from incompetence. Again would non celebrities have received such a rigorous investigation costing over two million pounds?
These two principles of our British justice are the very basis of our free society, but there of course is the other one ‘Freedom of speech’ which again is a huge corner stone of our constitution.
The statutory authorities, not only but including the police, have choices and challenges, but first among responses, must be to respect the two principles of equality and innocence until proven otherwise. This surely demands a protocol where there are clearly defined codes of practice which will encompass public awareness during the warrant stage, pre-arrest, post arrest and trial. ( strictly private, very private, anonymity, public awareness)
However, we have the free press burrowing into all things communal, and so should it be. If only to keep the statutory authorities on the straight and narrow. The definition of ‘in the public interest’ is where the two factors clash. It is very sad that the Leveson enquiry was never allowed to run its course and that the press (for understandable reasons) did not embrace the idea of an independent press complaints authority or come to a progressive alignment.
Nevertheless, recent events have proved that we need a continuous review of our treatment of those under the law. This is ever changing, with the influence of social media increasing by the day. Guarding against frivolous accusations, false information, malicious and mendacious actions from whatever source need to be sieved through the prism of our great constitutional rights; equality under the law and innocent till proven guilty. ffffffffffff