Now chief of free information Christopher Graham calls for secret arrests


Now chief of free information Christopher Graham calls for secret arrests
Information Commissioner said there was no ‘pressing social need’ for the public to be told who was being held by the policeSuch anonymity has been branded an attack on open justice

By
Martin Beckford

PUBLISHED:

01:06 GMT, 14 April 2013

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UPDATED:

13:21 GMT, 14 April 2013

The row over secret arrests deepened last night as Britain’s data watchdog claimed that naming crime suspects breaches their human rights.

Christopher Graham, the Information Commissioner, said there was no ‘pressing social need’ for the public to be told who was being held by the police.

He warned that identifying suspects risked them being denied a fair trial and would leave them exposed to ‘media intrusion into their private lives’.

Information commissioner Christoper Graham

Controversy: Information Commissioner Christoper Graham warned identifying suspects could deny them a fair trial

His comments have been echoed by senior judges and lawyers, including a barrister at the forefront of the Hacked Off campaign to introduce state regulation of the press.

There are now fresh fears that police will press ahead with a draconian plan, recommended by Lord Justice Leveson in his landmark report, to keep secret the identities of people suspected of serious offences.

Under guidance being drawn up by the Association of Chief Police Officers, revealed by The Mail on Sunday last week, forces across England and Wales would be banned from confirming the names of those they have arrested when talking to journalists.

Secretive route: Police could soon be banned from identifying people they have arrested by a recommendation of the Leveson Inquiry

Secretive route: Police could soon be banned from identifying people they have arrested by a recommendation of the Leveson Inquiry

The guarantee of anonymity has been branded an attack on open justice that could allow criminals to keep offending by preventing victims or witnesses coming forward with evidence.

The Government’s own legal reform advisory body, the Law Commission, has said that reporters should be able to check names with police forces.

But in his strongly worded response, the Information Commissioner has claimed that a policy of identifying all suspects would breach the Data Protection Act, which concerns the handling of personal information, and Labour’s notorious Human Rights Act, long described as a criminals’ charter.

Mr Graham, a former BBC employee who previously ran the Advertising Standards Authority, wrote: ‘The European Court of Human Rights has recognised the state’s positive obligation to protect individuals from media intrusion into their private lives .  .  . due consideration will need to be given to the right of the individual to a fair trial and the right to respect for privacy.

‘It is not clear that there is a pressing social need to divulge the details of those individuals who have been arrested.’

Mr Graham, 62, who is paid 140,000 a year, questioned what the ‘pressing social need’ and ‘public interest’ could be in naming suspects. He added: ‘These judgments must be made in a context where once a name is released it may be impossible to retract it.’

His view has been echoed by the country’s senior judges. And Hugh Tomlinson QC, a leading figure in the Hacked Off campaign, wrote last week that if the name of someone who has been arrested is published, ‘many members of the public will assume that “there is no smoke without fire” and that, if a person is arrested, they must have done something wrong’.

secret law storm

Rumbling controversy: The Mail on Sunday report from last week

The Metropolitan Police Savile investigation is codenamed Operation Yewtree and has led to 12 arrests

Intrusion: In the future the press may not be able to identify crime suspects as it would breach their human rights

Bill Waddington, chairman of the Criminal Law Solicitors’ Association, said: ‘It is important that, unless there are exceptional reasons, an arrested person is not identified by the police to the press.’

The Law Society said: ‘While it is arguable that the police should never be permitted to release the name of a person who has not been charged with an offence, we accept that in many cases there is a legitimate public interest in this information.’