The English legal system is a "common law" system.  This means that:  the law is what judges say it has always been unless Parliament passed legislation that says differently.

That someone accused of a crime is innocent until proven guilty is a common law principal. This presumption of innocence does not actually appear in the Magna Carta and has never been written down.

However, Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) now includes this presumption of innocence in written form.  The ECHR forms part of English law via the Human Rights Act 1998, so since then this presumption is, in a way, part of the written statute law of England.

A presumption of innoncence exists until such time as the burden of proof or a jury of their peers decides otherwise.  This presumption has, in fact, been enshrined in law in some countries but others take it as read.

The Coalition Government made a commitment to giving teachers anonymity when accused by pupils, and to taking other measures to protect against false allegations.  This came into force on 1 October 2012.  The provision makes it an offence to report or publish any information that could lead to the identification of a teacher who is subject to an allegation of a criminal offence made by, or on behalf of, a registered pupil at the same school. The information prevented from being published includes: name of school where the teacher works, or anything that would help to identify the individual. Teachers have, therefore, become the first professional group in this country to be given anonymity under law.

What is the rational behind this new law? The view is that teachers, as a professional body, are particularly vulnerable to false allegations of abuse or other misconduct.  An allegation can have a serious impact on both the private and professional lives of an individual who is involved. Almost one-fifth of the allegations levelled against school teachers were considered to be unfounded, causing concern that this provision was needed urgently to protect reputations in those cases where allegations were unfounded or malicious.  This is according to a report by the Department for Education.

While the law was being debated, there was support for the law from a number of bodies who confirmed that and I quote:

  • they were happy with the provisions relating to anonymity
  • they felt that the new provisions would not hinder investigations against allegations of misconduct

So what is the difference between them and other groups of "well known professions"?

We have all seen the recent media frenzy that has gone on when yet another "well-known person" has been accused and named.  These people have not been arrested, let alone charged but their names are all over the papers and on the television and, in fact, in some cases, the media are at the door before the police even arrive.  Out of the 13 suspects quizzed in the wake of the Jimmy Saville scandal, only three are likely to be charged with sex offences according to detectives, yet we can name most of those 13, courtesy of the media.  Lives have been ruined, careers suffered  - and mud sticks.

This is happening to well-known faces but make no mistake this could happen to any of us, we are saying that an individual has the right to remain anonymous until charged. An acquaintance, who is a QC, was,asked what his opinion was and he fully endorsed this resolution.

Anonymity is derived from the Greek word anonymia, meaning "without a name" or "namelessness".  In everyday use, anonymity typically refers to the state of an individual's personal identity, or personally identifiable information, being publicly unknown.

We are not defending these people, if they have done wrong then they deserve to be punished but give them a fair crack of the judicial whip.  Let them remain anonymous until there is enough evidence for them to be arrested and taken to court.

Retired teacher, Christopher Jefferies, was arrested in Bristol for the murder of Joanna Yeates and the papers really went to town naming and shaming.  When he was released without a stain on his character, he had apologies from eight national newspapers - they also agreed to pay him substantiallibel damages, thought to total six figures.  He should never have been named in the first place.

What we should be asking ourselves is this, if innocent until proven guilty is the law should not anonymity be part of that law and officially be on the statute book, so that others would not suffer the same fate and those that do leak a name to the press are duly punished.

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