In England and Wales and Northern Ireland, complainants in sexual offence cases are granted anonymity. The current law is contained in the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act of 1992.
The Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 provides lifetime anonymity for complainants in sexual offence cases. Section 1 prohibits the publication of material during a complainant’s lifetime if it is likely to lead members of the public to identify them.
The 1992 Act restricts publication of details that would identify a complainant in relation to a large number of offences that are considered to be sexual offences by the law of England and Wales and the law of Northern Ireland. The relevant sexual offences are set out in section 2 of the 1992 Act, and include offences such as rape. So, if someone is a complainant in relation to one of the relevant sexual offences, then the anonymity provisions will apply.
In certain circumstances, the trial judge may lift the automatic rule of anonymity. For example, if the judge is satisfied it represents a “substantial and unreasonable restriction upon the reporting of proceedings at the trial” and “it is in the public interest to remove or relax the restriction” the anonymity provisions will not apply. Equally, complainants may also choose to waive their right to anonymity, as anyone who is prosecuted will have a defence. In order to waive anonymity a complainant must be over the age of 16 and this must be done in writing and it must be ensured that nobody has “interfered unreasonably” with their “peace or comfort” to secure their consent.
It is important to understand that the 1992 Act does not protect Scottish complainers. Scottish publishers are prohibited from identifying complainants in cases elsewhere in the UK. However, no Scottish statutory or common law offences are included in the list of sexual crimes to which a right of complainer anonymity attaches under section 2. This means that Scottish complainers do not have the same rights as complainants in England and Wales or Northern Ireland.