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Law Column: Two new anonymity issues to note

footansteylogonewFollowing our last column, which was a general update on reporting the courts, there have been two further reporting restriction related issues of note. One concerns the reporting of forced marriage cases, and the second relates to the reporting of Employment Tribunals.

Forced marriage victim anonymity

It has recently been announced that the Policing and Crime Bill is to be amended, in order to give lifetime anonymity to victims and alleged victims of forced marriage.

The new measure will mean that the name, address, photographs, or any other information likely to lead to the identification of a victim, cannot be published.

The measure will apply to traditional forms of publishing, the internet, and social media, and will be very similar to those which apply for victims of female genital mutilation and victims of sexual offences.

When the provision comes into force, reporters will have to be extremely careful when covering cases involving forced marriage. By their very nature, such cases usually involve close family networks, and identifying the husband of a victim, or other family members, will always identify the victim.

So what does it mean for reporting such cases? Well, the provision does not ban the media from reporting the cases, but it probably does mean that that they will need to be reported anonymously, with no names given at all. That is, unless the victim is at least 16 and waives the right to anonymity in writing, or the court lifts the restriction.

Hopefully, the new provision will result in an increase in the number of cases being prosecuted (as intended), and will not deter the media from covering them – but, we shall see.

Restrictions in the Employment Tribunal

Moving onto the second issue, the President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Mrs Justice Simler, has made a noteworthy ruling in relation to Reporting Restriction Orders.

An Employment Tribunal (“ET”) has the power to impose an order which means that hearings are held in private, or to prevent the identities of those involved from being disclosed, among other things. The ET also has the power to make Reporting Restriction Orders (RROs) which restrict publicity in cases concerning sexual misconduct or disability.

The ET Rules give the power to any party with a legitimate interest (which includes the media) to challenge such orders after they have been made, if the party didn’t have a reasonable opportunity to make representations before the order was put in place.

In a recent case involving a claim by a hairdresser against a celebrity, for unfair dismissal and unlawful sex discrimination, some important principles were outlined by Mrs Justice Simler.

In this case, a RRO was in place, but the case was then settled and withdrawn. The parties to the case argued that the RRO could not be varied after the claim was withdrawn, and News Group Newspapers argued that the RRO automatically lapsed once the claim had been withdrawn.

Both of these arguments were rejected. So, an ET can vary or revoke an order after a claim has been withdrawn, but at the same time, the RRO does not automatically lapse upon the withdrawal.

In the words of Mrs Justice Simler:

“Since any order made by a tribunal or court restricting publication engages the principle of open justice and Article 10, the Rules must provide an effective means of challenging such an order so that tribunals must retain jurisdiction to entertain such a challenge.”

This is certainly something to bear in mind when you come across RROs in the ET.

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