Just days after new legislation came in to give anonymity to teachers accused of sexual offences against their pupils, a judge in London went out of his way to protect the identity of a senior master who admitted sexual activity with a girl under 13.
Judge Dunne banned the media from identifying the teacher or the school at Harrow Crown Court on Friday – much to the annoyance of the press and parents.
The judge used a section 39 order under the Children and Young Person’s Act 1933, which meant media reports lacked key information.
The order banned … ‘the publication of any information that would identify a teacher who is the subject of an allegation of misconduct that would constitute a criminal offence where the alleged victim of the offence is a registered pupil at the school’.
My view is that Judge Dunne misapplied the law.
The Court of Appeal ruled in 1992 that a section 39 order cannot be used to protect the identity of an adult defendant, which is what has happened here.
And the Supreme Court has ruled that a court only has the power to ban the media from reporting the identity of a defendant if doing so is … ‘necessary to protect that person or his/ her family from peril to their lives and safety'.
It was a strange decision that was left unchallenged by the media, though they have another chance to overturn it when the teacher appears for sentencing next month.
Pupil abuse by a teacher is a matter of substantial public interest, and legally and ethically overrides any desire the defendant might have to avoid public accountability for his crime. The teacher pleaded guilty, so there was no question or doubt about what happened. He has no right to anonymity.
The abuse may have damaged the pupil for life. Parents of other pupils have a right to know his name, where he worked, and what the head and governors are doing about it.
There is another aspect to this, too. Not allowing this teacher and this school to be named casts a slur on other secondary schools in the area. Parents will be wondering: ‘Did it happen here?’ And innocent teachers may fall under suspicion. That’s grossly unfair.
This appears a classic example of the law being used to protect the guilty, rather than the child and the public. And this was before the Education Act 2011 came into force!