Birmingham Post legal column

BY MARTIN ALLSOPP

One of the reasons the British legal system is regarded as the fairest in the world its that the scales of justice are balanced evenly for accusers and the accused.

 

Of late, however, I have become concerned that this principle is being undermined.

I’m talking in particular about Operation Yew Tree and the weekly ‘outing’ of celebrities involved in the on-going police investigation into sexual assaults.

It is usual legal practice for an alleged abuser to be named only after he or she has been charged. In the case of Yew Tree, however, many of those accused have been openly identified when they are merely being questioned.

It is not proper, in my view, that any suspect – celebrity or otherwise – should be named before a thorough investigation and charges brought. The leaking of any information relating to the investigation is anti the principles of Leveson and should itself be the subject of inquiry.

The dangers to the accused are obvious: damage to their hitherto good name, their career and livelihood, and indeed, innocent members of their family. Even if subsequently cleared, it’s hard to distance themselves from the smear: they used to say “today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s chip paper”, but these days erasing a digital footprint is nigh on impossible.

One of the justifications for naming celebrities is that it will bring reluctant victims out of the woodwork. The nature of the crimes under investigation by Yew Tree mean there are generally no witnesses, so they’re hard to prove. Many victims were minors at the time, and felt their voice would not be credible.

But a crime is a crime whenever it was committed and the lapse of time should not deny a victim justice. Society has changed however. In times of austerity there are those that consider accusers are simply looking for compensation rather than punishment of the offender. I do not personally subscribe to that argument but the rights of the accused and their family members must also be taken into account until the accused has been tried by a court of law and not by the media.

Martin Allsopp is president of Birmingham Law Society

 

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