Sexual offences

This section covers sexual offences. 


Victims of the vast majority of sexual offences are guaranteed anonymity by the law, under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 2000, Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 and the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976 (as amended by the Criminal Justice Act 1988). Once the allegation has been made that a person has been the victim of such an offence, no matter may be published or broadcast which would be likely to lead members of the public to identify that person as someone against whom such an offence has been alleged to have been committed. Anonymity remains in force for the lifetime of the victim, even where the allegation is withdrawn or the accused acquitted.

Except with respect to complaints by pupils against teachers (see below), there is no automatic legal anonymity for those accused in relation to sexual offences cases.

Where a breach of these reporting restrictions is alleged, it would be a defence to prove that the person responsible for the broadcast was not aware or had no reason to suspect that publication was in breach of the sexual offences anonymity provisions. Note: the situation in Scotland is different as there is no statutory restriction but in practice press and broadcasters maintain anonymity for victims of sexual crime. This is a prerequisite for being allowed to remain in court when victims are giving evidence.

Female genital mutilation (FGM)

Section 4a and Schedule 1 of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 makes it a criminal offence to publish anything which would be likely to lead members of the public to identify a person as an alleged victim of FGM. The anonymity applies “where an allegation has been made” that an FGM offence has taken place.

Any content maker wishing to make a film in this area must seek legal advice from the content lawyer/compliance advisor before approaching victims.

Complaints by pupils against teachers

It is a criminal offence (Section 13 Education Act 2011) to publish anything which would identify a teacher at a school who has been accused of a criminal offence by or on behalf of a pupil at the school, if that teacher has not been charged with a criminal offence. The media can identify the teacher in such circumstances if the teacher consents freely and in writing. The prohibition ends when a justice of the peace issues a summons or warrant, when a public prosecutor issues a written charge in respect of the offence or when a person is charged with the offence after being taken into custody without a warrant.

Forced marriage

It is a criminal offence (Section 6a Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014) to publish anything likely to identify someone as a victim/alleged victim of a forced marriage offence in their lifetime. A forced marriage is when a person uses violence, threats or coercion for the purposes of causing another person to enter into a marriage, and believes, or ought reasonably to believe, that the conduct may cause the other person to enter into the marriage without free and full consent. A person also commits an offence if they practice any form of deception with the intention of causing another to leave the UK for the purpose of subjecting them to a forced marriage abroad. The marriage doesn’t need to have taken place for anonymity to have effect; this is to protect victims from a plot or plan to force them to marry. Forced marriages are not the same as arranged marriages. In an arranged marriage, families take the lead in selecting a marriage partner, but the couple have the free will and choice to accept or decline the arrangement.

Waiving anonymity

In certain circumstances, magistrates or the trial judge may lift the automatic rule of anonymity. In addition, victims themselves can choose to waive their right to anonymity, if aged 16 years or over, without the consent of the court. Any content creator relying on this must seek the victim's consent to waive their right to anonymity in writing and such consent must not be given under duress. A person under 16 cannot have their rights waived by their parent/guardian. Anonymity does not apply if the victim is deceased.

If you are seeking to identify a victim of any of the above, please speak to your content lawyer/compliance advisor who can advise you further on this.

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