Reporting Restrictions in Ambridge (Slight Return)

THIS is a quick addition to the earlier post on this subject, following Helen’s revelation in the witness box that she had been repeatedly raped by her husband, Rob Titchener, in The Archers this week.

Someone reporting a rape or other sexual offence usually has lifelong anonymity the moment they make that report. It does not necessarily have to be to the police, it could be to a doctor, friend, work colleague – the anonymity is activated by their making it known they have been the victim of such an offence.

However, Helen made the report during the testimony in her trial for the attempted murder of Rob. This changes things considerably when it comes to her anonymity. According to the law if a report of an offence emerges during ‘other’ proceedings (other than proceedings for the sexual offence itself) then the complainant has no anonymity.

This measure was originally intended to deal with complainants who were subsequently charged with perjury, perverting the course of justice or wasting police time, to ensure that the anonymity that would normally apply does not do so any longer. Because of the way the law was phrased, the exception also applies in situations like that of Helen – where a report of a sexual offence emerges during testimony at a trial for another offence.

So, Helen would have no legal right to anonymity at this stage. What of ethical codes though, does the Editor’s Code of Practice have anything to say on this?

Clause 11 of the code says- The press must not identify victims of sexual assault or publish material likely to contribute to such identification unless there is adequate justification and they are legally free to do so.

I would think, that in Helen’s situation, where granting her anonymity in the middle of her trial would make it very difficult to continue reporting at all, many editors would decide that there was adequate justification for continuing to identify her.

What next though? If she is acquitted (at the time of writing her trial was still ongoing) the police may decide to pursue the allegations of rape she had made against her husband. In such a case, legally, anonymity would begin to apply to her.

However, on her acquittal, she may, perhaps, agree to be interviewed on the matter, and if she waived her anonymity then it would continue to be waived in any subsequent proceedings against her husband.

Stay tuned, I will try to keep up with any other legal issues this Archers plotline throws up.