Call for police to be allowed to name some suspects on arrest

Director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer QC, says naming certain suspects may prompt more victims to come forward

Britain's top prosecutor has called for more "wriggle room" in new rules which say police should not normally name suspects they have arrested before they are charged unless there are exceptional circumstances.

Keir Starmer QC, the director of public prosecutions, has told MPs he supports a "blanket rule" that suspects should be named when they are charged but he is not in favour of a similar blanket rule banning their being named at the point of arrest.

"I'm for a blanket rule on charge, I'm not for a blanket rule on arrest," he told the justice select committee. "I would certainly want wriggle room to name in certain types of cases."

He cited sexual offending as a type of case where there was a prospect of other victims coming forward if a suspect was named when arrested.

"I have countenanced the situation where someone is arrested and there's not enough evidence to charge but there may be other allegations out there. That's a very important consideration and there I would expect to have a discussion with the police about naming," he said.

"My concern is what happens on charge. I am also concerned to have enough wriggle room, whatever the approach is, to have naming in the circumstances where it is necessary in order to enable a charge to be brought if that's the appropriate course of action."

Starmer said the debate over "secret arrests" was being fuelled by the length of time between the arrest and charge in some cases. "It's where people are arrested and then on bail for some time that it becomes increasingly difficult. I'm absolutely clear about what happens on charge. On my part we need to work with the police to reduce the period between arrest and charge so we can get to a public statement sooner rather than later."

His intervention followed the publication of fresh advice from the new national standards body, the College of Policing, that forces in England and Wales should not name those who have been arrested except in "clearly identified circumstances, or where legal restrictions apply". The guidelines say these exceptions include a "threat to life, the prevention or detection of crime, or a matter of public interest and confidence".

The chief constable Andy Trotter, the college's national policing lead for communications, said the decision between openness and confidentiality could be finely balanced. "We aim to bring into the open our guidance about when someone should be named or not so that the approach is clearly understood."

The new guidance however is silent on a point raised last week by the home secretary, Theresa May, who said the police should confirm the identity of someone arrested if a correct name is put to them by a journalist.

The college guidelines say the media will often identify and name an arrested person without assistance from the police and that individuals themselves have the right to inform others of their arrest. But it makes no comment on May's specific point. In separate general guidance on relations between police and the media it does however say that there will be occasions when it is appropriate for police officers to guide the media away from an inaccurate story.

Kirsty Hughes, of Index on Censorship, said: "The default position that people who have been arrested should not be named goes against the principle of open justice that our criminal justice is based on.

"Rather than a policy of secrecy with exceptional circumstances for naming individuals, Index believes there should be a policy of openness with exceptional circumstances for withholding information. Sweeping powers for secrecy should not be the norm."


Alan Travis, home affairs editor

The GuardianTramp

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