Proposals by the Law Commission to restrict access to rape and sexual assault trials for journalists have been greeted with horror by the Society of Editors.
One of the proposals the commission has put forward is to automatically exclude members of the public and all but a single journalist from the courtroom when rape complainants are giving evidence.
'Devastating Effect on ... Coverage'But the Society of Editors said it would have a “devastating effect on the future coverage of sexual offence cases” and was contrary to the fundamental principle of open justice.
The proposal has also been opposed by the Crime Reporters' Association and by a rape victim.
Ellie Wilson, 25, waived her right after Daniel McFarlane was convicted of raping her twice between December 2017 and February 2018.
She said: “Journalists do serve a useful purpose in court. They make sure people think about what they say ... because they will report on those details.”
Dawn Alford, the executive director of the Society of Editors, said, “As well as being granted anonymity for life, complainants in sexual offence cases can give evidence via video-link or through a pre-recorded interview and many also choose to give evidence from behind a screen in court whereby, in most courtrooms, this has the practical effect of them being entirely hidden from view."
“To therefore add additional and unnecessary restrictions and limitations on the media’s ability to be present in court when such evidence is being given seems entirely disproportionate and unlikely to have any notable effect on victims’ court experiences,” she added.
Journalistic LotteryThe Society of Editors said the proposal was also impractical as there would be no fair way of holding a lottery to decide which journalist would be allowed to stay in court and there was no system in place to allow their copy to be checked and distributed to all media outlets who might be interested in the case.
Professor Naughton said, "For the past 30 years there has been this slow but gradual erosion of all the safeguards that protect against wrongful convictions."
A Law Commission spokesperson said: “The Law Commission is reviewing the law on the use of evidence in sexual offences trials. It wants to improve how complainants are treated; make sure that defendants get a fair trial; and improve knowledge of consent and sexual harm."
“We appreciate the critical role the media play in reporting on sexual offences trials, and making sure that justice is done and seen to be done," they added.
The spokesperson said: “Complainants can already request to give evidence in private. We are consulting on making this easier for complainants and it will always be their choice whether to request, but this would continue to include an important exemption to allow the media to report the story."
“We are currently consulting with the public on all aspects of our project; we welcome all views on our proposals. Once we produce our final recommendations it will be for government to decide how to proceed,” they added.
Sean Parker, editor of False Allegations Watch, said he was opposed to the proposal.
He told the Epoch Times, "Having one court-approved reporter syndicating out their report to other media outlets on which to spin their narrative would lead to further degradation and confusion of what used to be known as he said/she said cases."