Anonymity for complainants in sex cases

Anonymity for complainants in sex cases

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The anonymity

Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 s 1 affords lifetime anonymity to complainants in certain situations.

When does it apply?

When an allegation that an offence specified under the Act has been committed.

The offences to which it applies

Section 2 of the Act lists the offences to which the anonymity under section 1 applies. These include all offences under the Sexual Offences Act 2003 (excluding sex with an adult relative, intercourse with an animal and sex in a public lavatory). This includes rape, sexual assault, and all child sex offences. Also included under the Act are attempts to commit such offences.

What is prohibited and to whom does it apply?

The publication of any matter likely to lead members of the public to identify a person as the person against whom the offence is alleged to have been committed.

This includes their name, address and image (still and moving)

How long does the anonymity last?

For the complainant’s lifetime.

What does ‘publication’ mean?

It means traditional media, such a newspapers, magazines and news programmes, but also new media, such as online blogs, news websites, and crucially, Twitter and Facebook.

Offence of breaching anonymity

Section 5 makes it an offence to publish matters listed above.

What is the penalty?

A level 5 fine (currently £5,000, but there are plans to increase the powers of the Magistrates’ to impose unlimited fines)

“But I didn’t even know there was a law prohibiting it”

Tough. Ignorance is not a defence.

Examples

Ten individuals were convicted of offences under the Act in relation to the Ched Evans case. We covered it here and here.

Recently, Michael Le Vell (Corronation Street actor) was arrested and charged with child sex offences (see here for details). On 1 March, a 23-year-old man from Manchester was arrested for an offence under the Act for allegedly Tweeting the identity of the alleged victim in that case. The Daily Mail reported the story here.

Advice

If you are unsure whether you should be putting something on Twitter or Facebook in relation to the victim of a crime, don’t. It is as simple as that.

9 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks for posting this. However, in the Forrest case their seems to be an issue as the victims name is still freely and easily available on respected news sites, newspapers and on the BBC. Her name was published when the police were looking for the victim after the disappearance.

    These articles, TV reports etc were all printed/broadcast before any charges were made, but are achieved and easily accessed.

    Does the law cover this?

  2. How can it? Quite apart from the web, many libraries carry back numbers of newspapers. There is nobody whose job it is to pull old copies to protect people who later become complainants. Shades of 1984 and unpersons.

  3. Nor can anyone stop foreign papers coming in in the rare case where the story gets attention outside our shores. Just too bad.

    • I understand entirely, but I wonder then what is the point in the ruling, especially in this day and age of constant access to all news and information. It’s almost a case of closing the door after the horse has bolted.

      Even 20 years ago this would not have been an issue really (except foreign papers and libraries as you say). But nowadays with the Internet, social media etc, it makes the ruling seem almost pointless

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