PEERS have been told of the “tremendous suffering” endured by former home secretary Lord Brittan as a result of false allegations of rape against him.
Former Richmond MP Lord Brittan’s ordeal was highlighted by his friend and former government colleague Lord Lamont of Lerwick as he spoke in a House of Lords debate on proposals to protect the anonymity of sex crime suspects before they are charged.
The Conservative peer questioned the releasing of names prior to charge, pointing out the “life shattering” damage that could be caused to a person. He argued it undermined the presumption of innocence.
“which is at the heart of our system of justice”.
Lord Lamont said he was speaking in the debate on an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill as he “felt he owed it to his friend” Lord Brittan, whom police failed to tell he had no case to answer before he died of cancer.
Lord Lamont said: “I saw a lot of Lord Brittan in the final weeks of his life and I saw the tremendous suffering that was caused to him by his being wrongly accused of a rape offence.”
Making it clear it was not just about people in the public eye, he said: “This is about everybody who might find themselves in this sort of situation.”
He added: “Is it really right that a person’s name should be released to the public and to the press simply because they have been interviewed under caution and no further action is taken?”
Lord Lamont said: “People just assume that the damage to someone’s reputation will go away because charges do not follow.
“But that, I think, is not reality, it is not actually what happens.
“There’s always an element of the public who think ‘no smoke without fire’.”
He went on: “It seems to me naming people before charging does undermine the presumption of innocence, which is at the heart of our system of justice.
“Usually when people’s names are released it is seriously damaging to their reputation.
“The public are not always very rigorous in observing, in their own discussions or in what is written, in the principle of one is innocent until proven guilty.”
He also pointed out the naming of suspects prior to charge could lead to false claims being made.
While acknowledging they were rare, he said there had been instances in historical sex abuse cases where people had come forward with allegations “that were completely false”.
Lord Lamont added: “It does seem to me that the rights of the innocent are extremely important.”
He told the minister: “I absolutely want to be convinced that something is going to be done about this situation, nothing has been done about this situation.”
Proposing the amendment, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Paddick said: “Sexual offences are a special category of crime and those accused should be given the statutory protection from having their names published or broadcast up until the point of charge unless a judge rules otherwise.”
But independent crossbencher and leading lawyer Lord Pannick said: “In my view to prohibit publication of who is accused and of what in this context would be wrong in principle.
“It would I think deflect attention away from the true mischief which is the lack of respect for the presumption of innocence.”