Anonymity of complainants in sexual offences cases.
“Why can my name be published but not the person accusing me?”
If a person makes a complaint of rape or of other sexual offences they will be afforded anonymity by the criminal justice system. This means that any information revealing who they are or information that is likely to reveal who they are cannot be published.
This anonymity will last for their lifetime and will remain in place irrelevant of whether a defendant is convicted or acquitted. Although such anonymity is automatic it isn’t absolute and there are some circumstances where the ban can be lifted but those circumstances are highly restricted.
The rule preventing the publication of such details covers not only print media and television but also social media. It is a criminal offence to fail to comply.
Whereas most journalists are familiar with the restriction, problems have arisen following the increased popularity of social media. Over the recent past there have been a number of police investigations or prosecutions following a complainant’s identity being revealed on Twitter or Facebook. Recently a woman was convicted and fined by Magistrates in Manchester after tweeting the identity of the complainant in the Michael La Vell case. Similarly following the conviction of footballer Ched Evans for rape, there were multiple arrests after the victim’s detailed were published on social media.
The reasoning behind granting such anonymity is that a complainant may be deterred from coming forward if their details and what happened to them were to become public knowledge, given that often there is stigma attached to sexual crimes.
Much of the debate surrounding this issue has centred on the question why a defendant isn’t afforded the same automatic anonymity given the recognition that public stigma attached to sexual offences can be damaging.
Although defendants do not have automatic anonymity there is a discretionary power for the court to protect the identity of children when they are part of proceedings or connected to them. This can be granted to a defendant if they’re a youth or for the defendant’s children. The Courts also have the power to restrict reporting under the Contempt of Court Act 1981, if it appears necessary to avoid substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice in those proceedings or in any proceedings pending or imminent. Ask your solicitor if this applies to you.
It would seem that the debate surrounding the issue has once again been ignited following intense media interest in a number of high profile sexual offences prosecutions. Defendants, who have been acquitted but were subject to intense scrutiny by the media, have ended up asking themselves whether they can ever recover from the stigma attached to what they were accused of.
For the time being it would seem that those on trial for such offences will not be afforded the same anonymity.
By the defence solicitors: Hilary Doherty and Natalie Smith.