THE BLOG

Suspending Nigel Evans Would Not Imply He is Guilty

15/05/2013 12:31 BST | Updated 13/07/2013 10:12 BST
AP

When people with any level of responsibility are accused of a serious crime or activities that offend common decency, the normal procedure in the UK is for them to be suspended from their job pending an investigation.

This happens when teachers are accused of inappropriate contact with young people, whether in school or not. It happens when broadcasters are accused of making racist or sexist comments. Politicians would be the first to insist that it happens when civil servants are accused of serious crimes.

Such action is about protecting colleagues and the public from potential risk and it is also about avoiding bringing an organisation into disrepute. It is not an erosion of the tenet of 'innocent until proven guilty'.

To temporarily remove somebody from the workplace while police investigations are going on is not a judgement on their guilt - only a court can find them guilty. That a person has been suspended from work pending an investigation will have no bearing on the Crown Prosecution Service, magistrates, jurors or judges. It is simply good practice.

It seems strange therefore that the Conservative MP and deputy speaker Nigel Evans should be removed from part of his role but not his core role. He will not resume his role of speaker until the police have concluded their investigation into alleged sexual attacks on two men but will continue working as an MP.

Mr Evans was questioned on May 4 about alleged attacks on two men between July 2009 and March 2013. He has denied the allegations that he raped one man and sexually assaulted the other.

In a statement he said: "The allegations are completely false and I can't understand why they have been made." He has been bailed until June 19.

Politicians obviously have considerable power. While deputy speaker is no doubt a much-prized job, the power that Mr Evans has as an MP goes well beyond this. MPs vote, they debate in the House of Commons, they attend working groups and other platforms that help shape policy. They have surgeries in their constituencies and meet members of the public. They supervise junior staff, including young researchers straight from college.

Therefore it is incongruous that Mr Evans should be removed from a rather ceremonial aspect of his job but not suspended from duties where his contact with staff and members of the public is much more intimate.

If a head teacher was accused of rape and sexual assault, politicians might have something to say if the person in question was prevented from conducting assemblies but allowed to continue working in more intimate settings with staff and pupils.

School governors and a Local Education Authority expressing confidence in a teacher in such circumstances and allowing them to continue working might not reassure parents about the individual. In fact, it might well give them concerns about the school and the educational authority. The same danger exists in the case of Mr Evans in relation to both the Conservative Party and Parliament itself.

We have developed - quite rightly - into a society where victims of crimes are taken seriously and those who are accused of dangerous crimes are kept away, as much as possible, from sensitive workplaces and potentially frightened colleagues. MPs are valuable members of society but none are indispensable and there are procedures in place to cover constituencies if a particular MP cannot, for whatever reason, work.

It would make sense to employ these capacities in relation to Mr Evans, to avoid the potential accusation that there is one rule for politicians and different rules for the public.