Hardiman questions methods of UK sex-claim inquiries

Operation Yewtree raises innocence presumption issues, says Supreme Court judge

Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman: presumption of innocence “radically undermined”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman: presumption of innocence “radically undermined”. Photograph: Cyril Byrne


The treatment in the UK of people questioned as part of the Operation Yewtree inquiry into historical sex allegations against celebrities, raises fundamental issues about the presumption of innocence in the legal system, the Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman has said.

In a review in the Dublin Review of Books, he said the treatment of BBC broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, former Tory politician Lord Brittan, former UK chief of staff Lord Bramall, and Sir Cliff Richard, “led me to wonder whether presumption of innocence can survive in a legal system which permits the police and the media to destroy a person’s reputation in advance of any trial”.

He said that some people find it difficult to accept that, where an investigation or a trial fails to resolve an issue beyond reasonable doubt, a suspect or defendant is entitled to the presumption of innocence.

“In sexual cases particularly, even very old ones, such people seem inclined to think that there should be a different presumption; that the accuser is to be believed.”

Thus, he said, Hillary Clinton, an experienced lawyer, in January declared that every accuser was to be believed, only to amend her view when asked if it applied to women who had made allegations against her husband.

This conflict of feeling, Mr Justice Hardiman said, “has radically undermined the presumption of innocence and has given rise, even in a thoroughly civilised country like Great Britain, to a climate of opinion in which some people, and some institutions, postpone, or forsake the idea of bringing an accused person to trial, which carries the possibility of an acquittal, preferring instead to use the powers of the criminal law to subject such people to public shaming so intense that it can destroy their lives”.

This, he said, provided all the stigma of a conviction with none of the risks of a trial. “A disproportionate number of the victims of this process are elderly white males.” The judge did not refer to any recent Irish controversies. “One would have thought it hard to imagine that a well-known person in Ireland could have the fact that allegations had been made about him leaked to the media before he was even questioned.”

Mr Justice Hardiman’s review is of Love, Paul Gambaccini, by Paul Gambaccini, which tells what happened him when he was arrested as part of Operation Yewtree and was “all but destroyed by a sophisticated and apparently concerted campaign of leaking by the police and harassment by the media”.

Mr Gambaccini was arrested in relation to allegations he had sex with two teenage boys 35 years prior to his arrest. There was no evidence to support the claims and Mr Gambaccini was eventually given an apology.