'Anonymity for wife-beaters should be a last resort'

Possible changes in the law which could give wife-beaters court anonymity have prompted concern from the newspaper industry.

A consultation document is expected this month from the Home Office on how to encourage victims of domestic violence to go to court.

One suggestion is that they be given the same right to anonymity as victims of rape and sexual abuse.

The problem flagged up by the newspaper industry is that this would make it difficult to name husbands who are offenders because by doing so this would identify their victims.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, said: “Editors fully understand the difficulty in persuading women to provide the evidence for successful prosecutions.

“That said, we are always concerned that any restriction on reporting should be very much a last resort because open justice is a vital principal which protects the public as well as victims themselves in a general sense.

“In this case the difficulty we’d have is granting anonymity for a battered wife could lead to difficulty in reporting a case at all. We would be put in a similar position to the current one with reporting incest.”

According to Newspaper Society political affairs director Santha Rasaiah, such an increase in restrictions would raise a number of issues.

She said: “Rosemary West and Myra Hindley claimed that they were in abusive relationships. Under the Home Office proposals would that mean that they would automatically benefit from lifelong anonymity as alleged victims of domestic violence?

“Or would the media have been forced to omit such allegations from reports, whether of trials or other stories, to prevent identifying them as the alleged victim of such allegations?”

She added: “We appreciate that the Home Office wishes to counter domestic violence, encourage reporting and prosecution of crime and improve treatment of victims of domestic violence. However, we question whether there is any need for new problematic and automatic reporting restrictions, backed by criminal sanctions.

“Preliminary analysis of this proposal suggests that it would have a far-reaching and possibly counterproductive effect.”

By Dominic Ponsford

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