In October 2020, working my my colleague Seonaid Stevenson and our law students at GCU, I launched the Campaign for Complainer Anonymity. It is commonly assumed – and commonly claimed in the media – that complainers in sexual offence cases in the UK have an “automatic right to life-long anonymity” preventing them being identified by broadcasters, in the press, or on social media.
But legally, this is not the case. While complainers do have such rights in England, Wales and Northern Ireland – in Scotland alone, there are no automatic reporting restrictions imposed in sexual cases. This means complainers not only have no right to anonymity – it is perfectly lawful to name them in most cases.
In this respect, Scotland is not just out of step with the rest of the UK – but the rest of the common law world, with stronger legal rules in place to protect the identity of complainers in Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong, India and Bangladesh – often for decades.
You can read an open access version of my article on the Edinburgh Law Review here. I also gave a webinar on the issue in March 2021 in a joint Scottish Institute for Policing Research and GCU event, accessible below. The Campaign for Complainer Anonymity has also been picked up in the mainstream media, including on BBC Radio 4, BBC Scotland, The Guardian, Daily Record and Times newspapers.
In the 2021 Holyrood election, four political parties committed in their manifestos to introducing an automatic right to complainer anonymity in these cases, including the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Scottish Conservatives.