Anonymity for teachers…Mr ?

6 Oct

As of Monday this week, British school teachers accused of criminal offences by pupils at the schools they work at will now be granted anonymity under new legislation put forward by the Education secretary.

The provisions introduced under section 13 of the Education Act 2011 denote that teachers will become the first and only group of people in the UK to be automatically entitled to anonymity under English law, provided that the offence has taken place in the school at which they teach.

Under the provisions, it is an offence to name or publish anything that is likely to lead members of the ordinary public to identify the person as the teacher subject of the allegation. Though the ban only lasts until the teacher has been formally charged or had a warrant placed for their arrest, it is designed to protect teachers from the ‘devastating consequences’ of false and malicious accusations made by school pupils.

This provision to the act comes at a time when reports into malicious complaints by pupils against teachers reveal that just over 1% of complaints actually turned out to be malicious.

Police chiefs and senior lawyers have been quick to add to the abundance of complaints from editors and journalists alike against the new provision within the 2011 act. Many state that not only does it inhibit freedom of speech but it also can hamper the media’s contribution to the investigation of a missing person such as that of 15-year-old Megan Stammers.

The media is already governed by the legislation contained within the Contempt of Court Act 1981 and the Magistrates Court Act 1980 which both aim to ensure that the accused receives a fair trial and that unsubstantial and libelous accusations are avoided, while anonymity is provided for victims of offences under the Sexual Offences Act 1992 which could also stretch to the alleged. Therefore, what is to be gained from these new provisions?

 In the case of Math’s teacher, Jeremy Forrest and the 15-year-old student Megan Stammers, under the new law the media would have been unable to name any of those involved, family or friends of either party until Tuesday of last week, the time at which a warrant for Mr Forrest’s arrest was actually issued. Had this law been in place, one could hypothetically ask if the case would have been moved along so speedily?

 A spokesperson for the Department of Education spoke in relation to this case, stating that ‘This change will not affect cases like the one currently getting national attention.’

This question however, does emphasise the point made by Bob Satchwell, the executive editor of the Society of Editors undoubtedly, that ‘Although we acknowledge teachers’ fears about false accusations, the most important issue is surely to protect children.’

An application may be made to the Magistrates Court to lift the order however, this could be expensive and time consuming in which time the case could have already progressed. The Magistrate may also only lift the provision should they feel it satisfies the interests of justice to do so.
In addition to the above, the provision to the 2011 act also prevents parents from discussing such allegations amongst one another, friends or neighbour’s which poses an abundance of questions in terms of today’s modern media platforms. Would Twitter or Facebook be an adequate enough means to justify the lifting of such a restriction? One finds it hard to consider this the case from previous actions of the Attorney General Dominic Grieve who has not only taken action against UK media platforms but also warned in the early months of this year that the Internet and Twitter are not law free.

The new provision highlights a very cynical area of parts of the contentious Human Rights Act particularly, the right to reputation, the right to freedom of speech as well as the right to a fair and unprejudiced trial.

Law and legislation are ultimately present to govern and protect , in addition, what our government is wanting to suggest from this provision is, not only do our children need to be protected from harm but in a world where reputation is invaluable, so to do our teachers.

Author: Nadya SJ

Source(s): The Daily Telegraph,  Newspapersoc, Education.gov, Hold the Front Page

Photographs: The Daily Telegraph, Twitter, Google

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