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.
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.
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.