There has, over recent, weeks been a substantial press campaign against so-called “secret arrests” with unanimous support for a policy of releasing the names of people who arrested, irrespective of whether or not they are charged with any offence. ACPO, Lord Justice Leveson and the senior judges responding to the Law Commission have been condemned for supporting a policy of only releasing names in exceptional circumstances.
We had a piece on the issue a few weeks ago by Hugh Tomlinson QC (“Leveson, “secret arrests” and the rights of suspects: a question of balance“) and a news report on the Judge’s response to the Contempt of Court Consultation and the reaction of the Sun.
It now appears that Lord Justice Leveson, ACPO and the Judges are more in line with public opinion than the press. A YouGov poll conducted for the Sunday Times [pdf] on 3 May 2013 asked some questions about this subject and showed that large majorities of the public favoured keeping secret the names of those arrested but not yet charged. More surprisingly, a substantial minority favoured keeping secret the names of the those charged but not yet convicted – a position much more restrictive than current policy.
This poll has not received extensive publicity. Even the “Sunday Times” only mentioned it in a “Pollwatch” piece. It shows, once again, how press campaigns on issues affecting their own interests are often out of line with public opinion (and do little to influence it).
The first question asked by YouGov was
Currently the identity of some people involved in certain legal cases is always kept secret where as, for other cases, their names are made public.
Thinking about people who have been arrested by the police for questioning, but have NOT yet been charged with any crime. Please state whether you think the person’s identity should be kept secret or made public? (see page 10).
Questions were asked about five categories of offence. In all cases the majority of the public favoured the identity of the suspect being kept secret. The results were as follows:
- People arrested on suspicion of sexual assault – 74%
- People arrest on suspicion of domestic violence – 72%
- People arrested on suspicion of murder – 64%
- People arrested on suspicion of terrorism – 58%
- People arrested on suspicion of other crimes – 69%
A question was then asked about people who had been charged with an offence. The point was not made that under the current practice people charged are always named.
Now thinking about people who have been charged with a crime, but have NOT yet been tried in court and been found guilty or not guilty. Please state whether you think the person’s identity should be kept secret or made public? (see page 11)
On this question, perhaps unsurprisingly, a smaller proportion favoured keeping the identity of the person charged secret. The results were as follows:
- People charged with sexual assault – secret, 43%, public 45%
- People charged with domestic violence – secret, 41%, public 47%
- People charged with murder – secret, 34%, public 54%
- People charged with terrorism – secret, 31%, public 57%
- People charged with other crimes – secret, 39%, public 46%