Should Defendants in child abuse cases only be identified when charged?
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Watching BBC’s Breakfast News, I heard Cliff Richard talk about his ordeal. Sir Cliff was subjected to an investigation by the police which lasted 18 months, during which he was never charged. He says that his reputation has been tarnished. He suggested that people in his position should not be named until they are formally charged.
This is not the first time that the debate about identifying Defendants in child abuse cases has surfaced. Under section 4 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1978, victims in sexual abuse cases are protected from identification by statute, whereas those accused of such crimes enjoy no such anonymity.
The problem facing the police is that abusers are often convicted of a series of crimes, spanning many years, and perpetrated against multiple victims, most of whom may not come forward until many years after the event. The victims are unlikely to know one another, and consequently the publication of the accused identity may be the crucial spur to persuade them to come forward.
At the same time, the 1978 Act has been with us for nearly forty years and it represented a recognition of the single greatest obstacle facing victims of sexual abuse giving evidence, namely the shame and fear of being identified. Sir Cliff’s case is, to say the least, an unhappy one but one case should not overturn this crucial law.
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