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Innocent until your name is public

Robert Bolt's Thomas More once said, "The world must construe according to its wits; this court must construe according to the law." This is the sort of thing you are likely to say when you have kept to the letter but are against the spirit of the law; particularly when you are in court. Sadly, for too many people, whether the court construes according to the law, its wits or some arbitrary piece of randomness, a not-guilty verdict does not stop the world from condemning you. Especially the world in tabloid format.

Just to remind everyone, the tennet is innocent unless proven guilty. I use "unless" rather than the commonly stated "until" because of the double jeopardy law. The state only gets one shot at proving you guilty (per offence), they can't just keep hounding you with trials until something sticks.

So what, then, to make of the naming of the suspect in the disappearance of Madeleine McCann? I'm not going to put a link to it, because I am neither going to be responsible for the publication of a suspect's name nor someone else reading it. If the suspect is guilty, and can be proven guilty beyond all reasonable doubt, then the court can deal with it. Until that point, though, once his name becomes public, particular in the internet age, he will forever be tarred as the bloke who kidnapped her etc. etc.

His chances of living a normal life afterwards are zero. After all, who would hire someone with his notoriety for anything? You'd hire Martin Bryant to retile your roof before you hired him to babysit your kids.

Shortly after the poor girl's disappearance, there was a complaint by the media (BBC, if I recall correctly, but it could have been anyone) that the police weren't giving them a lot of information.

Seriously! It is a police investigation, for crying out loud, not a reality TV show. Every minute of feeding the ravenous beast is a minute the police should be using for actually doing police work. The media can go and get stuffed. And what happens once the media sniff a suspect? They become the devil incarnate.

Similarly, take things such as rape or sexual assault trials. By law in the new country, the victim cannot be named. I understand the rationale: because they don't want to deter victims of a traumatic and horrific crime from coming forward. The problem is that no such courtesy is afforded to the accused. Again, this means they can have their names dragged through the mud well before they ever appear in court, and even if found not guilty, the stains will always be there. Anyone googling their name will find them as defendant and accused. And whether fabrication or technicality, insufficient evidence or innocence, their name is always smeared with their crime.

They are not seen as innocent or not guilty. They are judged by the public as got-away-with-it. As an upholder of democracy and freedom once said, "I'd rather see one hundred guilty men go free than chase after them." But they are not guilty until a court has found them so. Yes, the police can investigate them. Yes, they can be charged. But until a court finds thm so, they are not guilty. And if acquitted by that court, they will always be not guilty of that crime.

So here is my suggestion: the name of anyone accused of a crime cannot be made public until such time as they have been found guilty. This law should even extend to cover the identity of journalists charged with contempt of court for publicising names (until they are found guilty). As an important social commentator once said, "Things can't be all that bad, 'Cos Derryn Hinch went to jail".


Comment from revi

Chief Wiggum is not an upholder of democracy and freedom and TISM are not important.

I respond

As a leading figure in law enforcement in his region, if Wiggum isn't defending democracy then who is? After all, how many people can you name who he has had imprisoned for political purposes without facing trial?

And TISM are important social commentators. They may not be important for any other reason, but as far as social commentators go, having someone prepared to stand up and publicly ridicule Packer, Kennett, Hinch, Queensland Nationals, Kate Fisher, youth culture, celebrity worship and anything else they can find is of value.

And they have the most accurate description of the social consequences of drug use: Ecstacy's had a bad rap - The drug's OK but the music's crap

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