Child sex victims named in court lists

THE names of alleged victims of sexual offences – who by law should be protected by lifetime anonymity – are being circulated by the UK court service, The Comet can reveal.

Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) is emailing daily court lists, which are not encrypted, to organisations which include local authorities, charities, radio stations, newspapers, news agencies, the NHS, police and probation service.

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

During a 10-day period this month the court lists circulated for cases being heard at Stevenage Magistrates’ Court included the names of four children who are alleged victims in four separate sexual offence cases – rape in Hitchin, sexual grooming in Letchworth GC, indecent assault in Letchworth GC, and indecent assault in Stevenage.

Justine Eardley Dunn, chief officer at UK sexual assault charity Savana, said: “This will be quite devastating news for some people.

“It will stop people coming forward.”

She continued: “The more people you send this information to, the more likely it is to land in the wrong hands.”

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The Comet has discovered that the distribution list is not even kept up-to-date. We have been made aware of a court list which is still being sent to a journalist who changed careers more than four years ago, and to a newspaper which closed more than a year ago.

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

An attempt to protect the court lists with a password last week was abandoned the following day after those on the distribution list complained that they had been unable to access the files.

Michael May, business development manager at rape and sexual abuse charity Survivors UK, said: “This really shouldn’t be happening.

“It’s a significant disincentive for victims to know their details are being treated in such a cavalier manner.

“It surprises me that in a society where so much attention and funding is being spent on trying to encourage more people to come forward and engage in the criminal justice system, that it’s the same system that’s treating information with such little attention.

“In terms of someone feeling secure in carrying forward a complaint, it’s a disaster.”

A HMCTS spokesman said: “HMCTS totally refutes the suggestion that it does not treat details of alleged victims of sexual offences securely.

“The only people who receive copies of court lists with these details are the media, who abide by an agreed protocol, and legitimate agencies such as the police, local authorities and other criminal justice partners, who have a crime prevention or public safeguarding interest in the cases, and who are bound by a duty of confidentiality.”

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