Campaign to protect sex offence victims gains influential backers

HIGH profile members of the community are backing The Comet’s campaign to stop the court service circulating the names of victims of sexual offences – who by law should be protected by lifetime anonymity.

Organisations such as local authorities, charities, radio stations, newspapers, news agencies, the NHS, police and probation service are being emailed unencrypted court lists by Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS).

These daily court lists name victims of sexual offences who, under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, are protected by lifetime anonymity.

Sharon Taylor, leader of Stevenage Borough Council, told The Comet: “You have my full support.

“It is an absolute disgrace in this day and age that we are not able to protect victims of crime from this flagrant and unnecessary breach of their privacy.


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“I will make sure the Shadow Home Secretary and Justice Minister are aware of the situation so we are lobbying on this across parties.”

Peter Lilley, MP for Hitchin and Harpenden, added: “You seem to have uncovered a serious issue and I agree that this practice should not continue unless the department can produce a convincing reason, and I cannot think of one.”

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Oliver Heald, MP for North Hertfordshire, is also backing our campaign.

As well as named individuals, the court lists are sent to central email addresses, making it difficult to monitor who is accessing them.

The distribution list is not even kept up-to-date.

The Comet first brought the anonymity issue to the attention of HMCTS in July, but to date the court lists still include the names of victims of sexual offences - recently indentifying a teenage girl allegedly raped in Stevenage.

The Ministry of Justice has promised a review after Stephen McPartland, MP for Stevenage, contacted the Attorney General to highlight our campaign and to request urgent action to stop this “serious breach” by the court service.

Mr McPartland said: “I am delighted the campaign with The Comet to prevent the breach of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 has achieved its first success.”

But he said he will be pushing hard to ensure “victims of sexual offences are given the lifetime anonymity that Parliament intended them to have”.

A spokesman for HMCTS said: “The practice of providing lists and registers to the media has existed for over 20 years and has been cleared with the Information Commissioner.

“HMCTS has, in consultation with the Newspaper Society, reviewed the protocol for providing court lists to the media. A revised protocol has been issued.

“The revised version now includes an instruction to courts that emails of magistrates’ lists and registers to the media should include the following wording: ‘This email contains information intended to assist the accurate reporting of court proceedings. It is vital you ensure that you safeguard the personal information included and abide by reporting restrictions (for example on victims and children). HMCTS will stop sending the data if there is concern about how it will be used.’

“It also instructs courts to ensure that any email lists/contact details of newspapers and journalists are reviewed regularly for accuracy.”

* What do you think? Email editorial@thecomet.net or call 01438 866200.

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