june 2016


Cliff Richard has been told by police that no action will be taken against him in relation to allegations of historic sexual abuse. When the allegations emerged, officers from South Yorkshire police raided the singer’s home whilst he was away, a raid which was broadcast live on the BBC. The BBC has apologised to Cliff Richard for any distress caused but says that it stands by its coverage. The entertainer now says he plans to sue both the BBC and the police force for misuse of private information and breach of the Data Protection Act. He has also spoken out against the law which means that whilst alleged victims of sexual offences have lifelong anonymity, those who are accused can be named, even if they are never charged, a position which he sees as grossly unfair.

Under section 1, Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, alleged victims of sexual offences have lifelong anonymity, unless they are over 16 and waive their right to anonymity in writing to a publisher. Anonymity applies from the moment the allegation is made. The anonymity provisions have been extended to cover victims of female genital mutilation (FGM), and the government has recently announced proposals to extend it to victims of forced marriage.

Another recent example where anonymity for alleged victims of sexual offences has come under the spotlight is in a case involving two lawyers. A male lawyer and a female QC were said to have been engaged in indecent acts in Waterloo station. The female QC accepted a police caution for outraging public decency, but at a later point alleged that she had in fact been the victim of a sexual offence, as she had been too intoxicated to consent. This meant that she had anonymity, whilst the male lawyer was named in the press – he had not accepted a caution, denying the allegation, and the case was to proceed before a magistrate. The police have said no action will be taken against him in relation to the sexual assault allegation, and his solicitor called on the police to investigate the QC as to whether she has wasted police time or perverted the course of justice. The QC has strongly stood by her claim, her solicitor stating that she made the allegation of sexual assault in good faith, and any suggestion to the contrary is false, and confirming that the police are not investigating her in relation to any offence.

The arguments for and against naming those accused of sexual offences have been debated for some years. Some view it as grossly unfair that allegations can be made under the protection of anonymity, allegations which may well stick or taint a reputation even if the individual is never charged with any offence. Others say it is important to the administration of justice to publicise these matters. With sexual offences, where it is often one person’s word against another, it is often claimed to be vitally important that the accused is named, to encourage other victims to come forward, as many did once the allegations against Jimmy Saville were made public following his death. The debate as to where the correct balance of rights lie continues.