Would it surprise you to learn that complainers in sexual offence cases have no automatic right to anonymity in Scotland? This Campaign begins with a simple statement of fact. The idea that complainers “automatically have a right to anonymity under UK law” is often referred to in Scotland – but it has no foundation in Scots law.
We believe this situation is highly problematic. We believe something as important as complainer anonymity should not have to rely on journalists following professional codes of practice, or the general public’s self-restraint on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.
In our experience, most people are shocked to discover that people in Scotland who allege they have been victims of sexual offences have no legal right to anonymity. While Scottish courts can make orders prohibiting the identification of complainers under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981, these orders are not automatic and are not sought in the overwhelming majority of cases. This leaves a critical gap in our law. Scottish complainers are exposed to an acute risk of being publicly identified in connection with the case, without any effective legal remedy.
We think this is a problem Holyrood can fix – and fix fairly easily.
As a result we are establishing the Campaign for Complainer Anonymity led by lecturers in law Dr. Andrew Tickell and Seonaid Stevenson-McCabe, working with our GCU law students.
We will engage with the wider public and complainers to look at what anonymity means to them – are Scots aware of the law as it stands? How does this impact on decision-making about disclosure? How should the law be reformed?
We will also work with students to put the Scottish experience in its wider legal context by looking at how other jurisdictions across the world handle the issue of restrictions of publicising the identity of complainers or publishing material likely to identify them. This will help us think critically about what any law reform efforts in Scotland could and should look like.
There are different models for how Scots Law can be changed, better to protect complainer anonymity and more clearly to set out the rights and responsibilities of people writing about these criminal cases. This campaign aims to identify and progress concrete legislative reforms which can be adopted by the Scottish Government and Parliament to update the law, better to reflect public understandings and attitudes towards this important issue.
We will soon be launching our dedicated Campaign website but, if you want further information about the Campaign in the meantime, please contact: Seonaid Stevenson-McCabe Seonaid.firstname.lastname@example.org Dr. Andrew Tickell Andrew.Tickell@gcu.ac.uk