Tuesday, 13 November 2012
The events at the BBC are quite extraordinary, yet somehow depressingly predictable.
Obviously many people are shocked by the allegations made about Jimmy Saville, but they are still allegations. They are being investigated by the police, and if he were alive one can be sure that his lawyers would have been issuing injunctions by now to suppress some of the press coverage in the hope of ensuring that he got a fair trial.
Perhaps because he is dead, perhaps because there are so many allegations, perhaps because some people did find him "creepy", we seem to have forgotten the need for due process.
Unfortunately what seems to have happened next is that the lack of normal process in the Saville case has led the media into a frenzy of thinking that trial by media is OK. That is is reasonable to put unsubstantiated allegations on TV, or repeat them on TV and in the media, without due process.
Whatever the truth of any of these allegations it will be a very bad thing if we abandon due process.
I'm not a lawyer, in fact I have to say that lawyers mostly annoy me, there are too many of them, they charge too much and they seem to promote a narrow view of the world. Nevertheless there are good reasons why we have a police force, a crown prosecution service, courts, juries and judges, and they are all independent of each other in a system that has evolved over centuries. TV programmes and newspapers and the internet are not a substitute.
The legal process may get things wrong from time to time, but if it does, there are appeals and mechanisms to secure redress. If we resort to the media and the Internet as an alternative, there is no appeal or redress and we will end up with a much more unfair society. We have only to look at the tragic cases of people killing themselves because they have been attacked on the web to see the extremes that are possible. As a society I'm sure we don't need more of that sort of thing, and I am prepared to put up with a few lawyers in order to ensure that.
If Jimmy Saville's alleged activities, and the fall out from revelations about them, end up undermining a fair society as well as apparently abusing children, then he really will have fixed us.