Home secretary Suella Braverman is considering a radical change to the criminal justice system to guarantee suspects anonymity before they are charged.
The cabinet minister said she was “looking at” whether changes could be made to protect the privacy those suspected of a crime to save them from “trial by media”.
“I think that we’ve had some high-profile instances where the media circus around a suspect – who has not been charged – can be and has been devastating,” she told the Tory conference in Birmingham.
Mr Braverman was asked about the issue at a Young Conservatives event following cases like Sir Cliff Richard, named at the pre-charge stage after being falsely accused of historical sex offences.
“I think coverage of people prior to charge can be very, very damaging, particularly if the charges are not pursued or they’re dropped later on,” the home secretary said. “I think we do have to look at this issue.”
She added: “I think that the police need to be allowed to carry out their investigations. The CPS need to be allowed to carry out their decision making without pressure from the media, but individuals and suspects do have a right to a fair trial and trial by media will only undermine our justice system.”
Sir Cliff recently formed a campaign with radio DJ Paul Gambaccini – also falsely accused of historical sex offences – to “redress the balance” in the legal system so those accused of offences remain anonymous unless and until the police issue charges.
They are pressing the government to include an amendment in the next criminal justice bill because they believe the “law on privacy provides inadequate protection”.
Ms Braverman also suggested she wanted to cut number of student visas in bid to reduce “low-skilled” immigration – attacking some of the courses run by not “good quality” education institutions.
She told the Tory event: “I do think we do get to a point where we have to look at some of the courses that people are doing in this country. Some of the institutions are not always very good quality.”
Ms Braverman added: “I think it’s legitimate to question whether that’s actually going to serve our economic objectives. Taking a more discerning, smart approach to the number of student visas, I think, is highly consistent with our agenda for growth.”
The Tory hardliner – who insisted the Tory party remained a “moderate” force – was criticised for her attacks on family members of foreign students who “not necessarily working or they’re working in low-skilled jobs”.
The home secretary told the Sun on Sunday: “So students are coming on their student visa, but they’re bringing in family members who can piggyback onto their student visa.
“Those people are coming here – they’re not necessarily working or they’re working in low skilled jobs, and they’re not contributing to growing our economy,” she added.
Vice chancellors told Times Higher Education they were “very disappointed” by Ms Braverman’s comments.
Polly Mackenzie of the University of the Arts London (UAL) said overseas students paid £6bn in tuition fees and “similar amounts” on living costs in our economy, adding: “Higher education is one of Britain’s best exports.”