A quick revision of sexual offences reporting restrictions
The Sexual Offences Act 2003 wraps up all previous legislation.
The 2003 Act states that a complainant of any sexual offence may not be identified as an alleged victim, from the moment of complaint, in their lifetime. The complaint can be made by someone acting on the person’s behalf, to the police, a rape crisis centre, or other appropriate authority.
The Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 requires a complete ban on identification from the point of complaint. This means the following details must not be used: the person’s name; address; name of their school, college or place of work; or any picture or moving image of the person.
There are several instances when an alleged rape victim can be identified:
- when a judge is satisfied the restrictions impose a substantial and unreasonable restrictions on the reporting of the trial and it is in the public interest to lift them.
- when the accused satisfies the judge that it is necessary to lift them to induce witnesses to come forward, and the defence would be substantially prejudiced if they are not lifted.
- when a complainant over the age of 16 gives written consent to being identified, providing that their peace and comfort have not been interfered with to obtain the consent.
- when the complainant dies
- when the complainant is charged with other criminal proceedings arising out of the sexual offences allegation (e.g. perjury, wasting police time)
- when a victim in a case not involving a sexual offence mentions a sexual offence during evidence.
Elsewhere, Clause 11 of the PCC’s Editors Code of Practice states: The press must not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so.
See our short course on this subject
Sexual offences anonymity definition
Under the Sexual Offences Act 2003, anyone who makes a complaint of a sexual offence receives lifetime anonymity as an alleged victim from the moment of complaint, even if the complaint is withdraw, or defendant is acquitted or charged on a lesser offence.. The complaint can be by any person (the alleged victim or someone acting on their behalf), to police, rape crisis centre or appropriate authority.
Under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act, you may not report:
The complainant’s name, address, photo of or including them, or any details likely to lead to their identification as a complaint of a sexual offence.
Take care with running stories
You will already be aware of the need to protect the anonymity of young people under-18 who are involved in crime, or people who are the alleged victims of rape or any sexual offence.
The rules on anonymity are strictly enforced: ANY details that lead to identification must be left out.
Most journalists are able to spot the ‘usual’ unsafe information. But you should take care when details crop up unexpectedly in other parts of the story, especially in ongoing trials.
For example, say a boy of 14 is convicted of burglary, and his identity is protected by a section 39 order.
He comes from Rivington, a small village near Bolton. So in reports of the trial, the press correctly opt to give his age, and that he comes from a ‘village near Bolton’, in case there are only a few boys of that age living in the village.
However, the defence barrister later says during his mitigation: ‘He comes from a close community and is the first teenager from Rivington to be sent to a young offenders’ institution.’
Media publishing this statement would risk prosecution for using information that led to the boy being identified.