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Teacher Anonymity Comes into Force

From Monday 1 October, under an Order made by the Education Secretary, it will be a criminal offence to publish anything which is likely to lead members of the public to identify a person as a teacher who is alleged to have committed a criminal offence against a pupil at the same school, where that allegation has been made by or on behalf of the pupil.

The NS lobbied hard on section 13 of  the Education Act 2011 resulting in amendments during the Bill’s passage but it remains a wide-ranging offence.  It was described by concerned peers in the House of Lords as “an unprecedented attack upon free speech” which protected the identification of teachers, at the expense of potential prosecution of pupil, parent, school, education authority, police, media, whistleblower, or anyone else for publicising an allegation made by a school child or their fellow pupils of a crime perpetrated by a teacher against the pupil, even if admitted to be true.

An application can be made to the magistrates court (a single JP) for an order to lift the reporting restrictions. The court has to be satisfied that it is in the interests of justice to do so, having regard to the welfare of the teacher who is the subject of the allegation and the victim of the offence to which the allegation relates. Appeal against a decision either way can be made to the Crown Court.

Very broadly, the identification ban lapses once - (if) - proceedings for the offence have been instituted, ie a JP issues a summons or warrant for arrest, a public prosecutor issues a written charge and requisition, the teacher is charged after being taken into custody without a warrant or a bill of indictment is preferred. The identification ban will also cease to apply if the Education Secretary publishes information about the teacher in connection with his investigation or decision in a disciplinary case; if  the GTC for Wales publishes information in connection with its investigation, hearing or determination about the teacher or if  the teacher themselves publishes such information or gives his/her written consent to the publication by another.

If an editor, publisher, company or officer of the company is charged with breach of the reporting restrictions, it will be a defence to prove that at the time of the alleged unlawful publication, the person was not aware and neither suspected nor had reason to suspect that the  publication included the matter in question or that the allegation in question had been made. Provisions governing the liability of internet service providers are set out in schedule 4 of the 2011 Act.

Subscribers to the NS editorial and ad control/media law services can obtain individual advice from the PERA Department.

Links to Education Bill lobbying covered in NS News

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