Decision of the
Complaints Committee 06208-18 A woman v
Summary of complaint
1. A woman complained to the Independent Press Standards Organisation that Worcester News breached Clause 2 (Privacy) and Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault) of the Editors’ Code of Practice in an article headlined “Rape trial: teenage girl gives evidence”, published on 22 September 2018.
2. A report of court proceedings noted that the complainant’s daughter, who was the alleged victim of a sexual offence, had given evidence in court without the use of a screen to hide her face. The article reported the complainant’s daughter’s age at the time of the offences, and that the jury heard that she “would not be able to give evidence until Thursday as she was due to go on holiday on Monday”. The article was published online in substantively the same format, with the headline “Worcester County Hall rape trial: accuser in court as witness”.
3. The complainant said that the article included information which taken together, led to the identification of her daughter, in breach of Clause 11. Specifically, that she had chosen to give evidence in court without the use of a screen; the day that she was due to give further evidence in court; and the day that she would be going on holiday. The complainant said that readers would now be able to attend court with the intention of discovering who her daughter was. The complainant said that her daughter had a right to anonymity – in line with the law and the terms of the Code - due to her age and the nature of the alleged offences. She said that the effective identification of her daughter had amounted to an intrusion into her daughter’s private life, in breach of Clause 2.
4. The newspaper did not accept that it had breached the Code. It said that the details in the article were not specific enough to identify the complainant’s daughter to anyone except her immediate family, who it said would already have been aware of the case. The newspaper said that reporting that the complainant’s daughter had appeared in court without a screen would only identify her to the people who were present in court, and that they would already have been aware that she was the alleged victim. In addition, the newspaper said that reporting that the jury heard when the complainant’s daughter was due to go on holiday would not identify her to anyone who did not already know that she was the alleged victim; many teenage girls would have been due to go on holiday in late September. The newspaper noted that it had taken steps to avoid an increased possibility of the complainant’s daughters identification, for instance, it did not report the area where she was from.
Relevant Code Provisions
5. Clause 2 (Privacy)
i) Everyone is entitled to respect for his or her private and family life, home, health and correspondence, including digital communications.
ii) Editors will be expected to justify intrusions into any individual's private life without consent. In considering an individual's reasonable expectation of privacy, account will be taken of the complainant's own public disclosures of information and the extent to which the material complained about is already in the public domain or will become so.
iii) It is unacceptable to photograph individuals, without their consent, in public or private places where there is a reasonable expectation of privacy.
Clause 11 (Victims of sexual assault)
The press must not identify or publish material likely to lead to the identification of a victim of sexual assault unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so.
Findings of the Committee
6. The Code offers specific protection to victims of sexual assault, recognising their legal right to anonymity, and the terms of Clause 11 are designed to prevent the identification of victims of sexual assault in the press. In this instance, the Committee recognised the complainant’s concern that the article reported that her daughter was giving evidence without a screen, and that members of the public could, therefore, attend court and discover the identity of the victim. However, as part of the principle of open justice, newspapers are entitled to report on court proceedings, and to comment on the procedural details of a case. Individuals who give evidence in court, including victims, are named openly in the courtroom as part of legal proceedings, and anyone who attends court can find out their identity. In these circumstances, the Committee did not find that including this detail identified a victim of sexual assault under the terms of Clause 11.
7. Similarly, reporting when the victim would be on holiday, was not specific enough such as to identify, or such that was likely to lead to the identification of, the complainant’s daughter. There was no breach of Clause 11.
8. The article was a report of open court proceedings. Whilst the Committee acknowledged that the details of the report may have been distressing for both the complainant and her daughter to read, the newspaper was entitled to report on the case provided that it respected the complainant’s daughter’s right to anonymity. The Committee did not consider that the article had intruded into the complainant’s daughter’s private life, and there was no breach of Clause 2.
9. The complaint was not upheld.
Remedial Action Required
Date complaint received: 22/09/2018
Date decision issued: 12/12/2018Back to ruling listing