The Morality of Anonymity
Combative, provocative and engaging debate chaired by Michael Buerk. With Anne McElvoy. Melanie Philips, Nazir Afzal and Tim Stanley.
Sir Cliff Richard said his reputation was "in tatters" after the police raided his home in 2014 while the BBC filmed it from a helicopter above. Accused by an anonymous informant of a long-ago sexual assault, Sir Cliff was never arrested but his humiliation could not have been more public. He has since recovered damages from the BBC for breach of privacy and now he is one of several well-known figures calling for a change in the law. They want those suspected of sexual offences to remain anonymous unless and until they are charged. It is unjust, they argue, that accusers receive lifelong anonymity, while suspects can be named at any time. We are all innocent until proven guilty, but ‘mud sticks’ and too many onlookers say that there’s no smoke without fire. Opponents of this view say false allegations are rare and they are worried that unless the names of abusers are publicised, other victims will not come forward. How, then, should we balance the risk to an individual’s reputation with the public interest, the freedom of the press and the principle of open justice? There are further questions about transparency in the wider legal system. Campaigners want to ‘shed light in dark corners’ of the family courts. They argue that, with the media present and reporting restrictions lifted, miscarriages of justice will be less likely. But lawyers working in the courts are concerned about the impact on vulnerable children. And what about youth justice? Should those under 16 years of age who commit murder be given new identities as adults? Does anonymity uphold or undermine justice?
Producer: Dan Tierney