A newspaper says police are “naming and shaming” drivers who have been charged with, but not convicted, of drink-driving offences. Sussex Police say they are merely “naming” the drivers, but do not appear to feel the need to correct the media reports.
The risk for social media users of being held in contempt of court was highlighted this week by the Attorney General, who has said that, in future, the advisory notes issued to “traditional” media on individual cases will now be made more widely available (published on the gov.uk website and twitter).
With this in mind I was concerned to see that Sussex Police were reported by the Eastbourne Herald to be “naming and shaming” drivers arrested and charged with drink-driving
Police have said this year they are ‘naming and shaming’ everyone they arrest in connection with drink driving
The report goes on to quote Chief Inspector Natalie Moloney as saying
It is sad that so many people ignored the warnings that we would be looking for drink-drivers and have been charged with offences within hours of the start of the campaign. The arrests and the naming of those charged with offences will continue across the county throughout the month
This seemed to me potentially to engage the provisions of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 of an offence of strict liability “whereby conduct may be treated as a contempt of court as tending to interfere with the course of justice in particular legal proceedings regardless of intent to do so”, because it is a publication addressed to the public at large, about active proceedings. For an offence to be committed the publication must give rise to a substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings in question will be seriously impeded or prejudiced. I am not convinced that would be the case, but, nonetheless, I was surprised to see a police force effectively being reported as saying that naming someone only charged with an offence gives rise to “shame” (it does nothing of the sort, of course, given the legal maxim of “innocent until proven guilty”). So I asked the Sussex Police twitter account
Are you really running a policy of “shaming” people by naming them prior to a trial?
to which they replied
We are not “shaming” anyone. We are naming those charged with a drink-related driving offence as we do for a range of offences
That was fair enough, (although one might ask Chief Inspector Moloney why an innocent person would heed a warning that police were looking for drink- drivers) but, as it appeared that this “naming-not-shaming” initiative had been launched in conjunction with the media, I wondered if they would be asking the Herald to correct its misleading article. Sussex Police replied
The campaign doesn’t aim to ‘shame’, but rather to deter & the article does not attribute the phrase to us
but this is simply not true: the article may not directly attribute the phrase to the police, but it does so indirectly
Police have said this year they are ‘naming and shaming’…
I have had no response yet to my further tweet pointing this out.
So, in a week when contempt via social media is very much in the headlines, we appear to have an online newspaper report which suggests there is shame attached to being charged with an offence, and which attributes this phrase to a police force, who seem unconcerned about correcting it. Odd.
For the avoidance of doubt, I should say that I have no sympathy whatsoever with people convicted of drink driving offences, but, to suggest there is “shame” in being charged with an offence prior to trial, is to go against centuries of presumption of innocence.