Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Home Office vs the media

The Criminal Records Bureau will "make no apology for erring on the side of caution"; or, to put it another way, for giving 1,500 people the criminal records of those with vaguely similar names. A newspaper that made this kind of mistake -- sorry, "mismatch" -- would expect to grovel publicly and hand over thousands of pounds, perhaps tens of thousands if the namesake's crime was serious.

Now, you can argue that the CRB has a civic responsibility on these matters and the press does not. But the existence of libel exemptions for reports of court cases would suggest the law disagrees with you (look here and scroll down to "absolute privilege").

These exemptions do not, of course, cover accidentally besmirching the innocent. I'm not a lawyer; for all I know, the CRB may be luckier on that one. But it would be nice if they had any requirement to examine the facts and check them with rigour.

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