The Society of Editors is urging the House of Lords to drop a controversial clause in the new Education Bill granting anonymity to teachers accused of committing a criminal offence against a pupil.
Clause 13 of the bill, which is currently passing through the House of Lords, makes it an offence to publish material that could identify a teacher alleged to have committed a criminal offence against a pupil until they are charged – and if no charge is made then the reporting ban lasts indefinitely.
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While a court would have the power to lift anonymity if it believed it was in the interests of justice, the bill contains no public interest defence for journalists who breach a name ban.
Earlier this year Telegraph Media Group executive director Lord Guy Black warned the bill would give teachers unique rights of anonymity enjoyed by no other group in society – while removing from vulnerable children ‘the right of every other citizen to publicise a grievance or a complaint”.
Scoiety of Editors executive director Bob Satchwell warned that that if the bill passed unchanged then it would be a ‘criminal offence for anyone – pupil, parent, police, school, local authority, whistleblower, media – even to inform parents or public that an identified teacher has admitted that the allegation is true and has resigned, or been disciplined, or even cautioned for the offence”.
It would even be an offence to report the identified teacher had been exonerated.
Satchwell, who has received the backing of Lord Phillips, said that while the SoE appreciated teachers’ concerns over false accusations the most important issue was “to protect children”.
‘Other media organisations share our concern that no one, including parents, could even discuss or raise the allegations publicly, without committing a criminal offence,’he said.
Satchwell said the SoE’s efforts to amend the bill were not ‘just about curtailing the freedom of the media”.
‘If there are serious problems arising from false accusations and the procedures used to investigate them, then they should be tackled directly,’he said in a letter to the House of Lords.
‘Anonymity would simply create new dangers. Truly malicious allegations by pupils are rare and the laws of libel, contempt and confidence already restrict their repetition and publication.
‘As it stands the Bill could mean that an accused teacher might move from one school to another without allegations being properly recorded and aired if there is not a criminal charge.
‘That would be dangerous because there are a variety of reasons why charges may never be brought.
‘We urge you to listen to your colleagues who have raised this matter and to join them in asking the government to modify their plans to avoid setting dangerous precedents.”
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