The country’s most high profile traffic lawyer has accused South Yorkshire Police of acting as “judge and jury” in its Christmas anti-drink drive campaign.
Nick Freeman, aka Mr Loophole, said the action by the force – which has seen them using social media to publish the names and ages of those “caught” drink driving – went against the fundamental presumption of innocent until proven guilty.
Last year, Staffordshire Police said it would not be repeating its #DrinkDriversNamedOnTwitter campaign, after the Information Commissioner’s Office said naming people who had only been charged alongside the label “drink driver” strongly implied a presumption of guilt for the offence.
This, it said, would not fit with the Data Protection Act’s fair and lawful processing principle. In addition, it has also spoken with Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) about making other police forces aware of the issues raised by this case.
Mr Freeman said: “Naming and shaming before conviction, unless it is in the public interest to do, is ridiculous and is potentially designed to encourage vigilante action. In this case the police are going beyond their remit.
“However, South Yorkshire Police has a track record for releasing the names of people before charge, with Cliff Richard being a classic recent example.
“I have represented thousands of clients who have been acquitted for a whole variety of different reasons. This means they have been found not guilty. They leave court without a stain on their character.
“If any person has been named and shamed by South Yorkshire Police and are ultimately acquitted, they may have a substantial claim for damages against the police.
“The presumption of being innocence is one of the fundamental tenets of our legal system. It is imperative that this presumption remains intact.”
Mr Freeman added: “Whilst I applaud the police’s efforts in endeavouring to raise the profile of drink driving, would it not be more sensible to achieve this goal by publishing the personal details of all those defendants who have been convicted in a gallery of shame, which is promoted as part of the drink drive campaign?”