Telegraph Media Group executive director Lord Guy Black has slammed a controversial new clause in the Education Bill that grants ‘unprecedented’anonymity to teachers accused of committing a criminal offence against a pupil.
Clause 13 of the Education Bill, which had its second reading in the House of Lords earlier this week, 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.
If no charge is made then the reporting ban lasts indefinitely.
And while a court would have the power to lift the 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.
Addressing the House of Lords, Black said the effect of the bill would be to 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’.
‘The prospect of a teacher who has done wrong voluntarily consenting to identification must be next to zero, and the chances of a court lifting restrictions will be low, especially in the absence of a public interest defence,’he said.
‘Furthermore, applications to the court are likely to be rare: they are expensive and local newspapers facing serious commercial pressure may not be able to go down that route. Those exemptions are worthless… the truth is that Clause 13 is unprecedented, unnecessary and unworkable.”
Black went on to reference the General Medical Council and its attempts to hold doctor misconduct hearings behind closed doors. Under the GMC’s latest proposals hearings in which there was no dispute over the facts of the case would no longer be held in public.
‘Interfering with the media’s ability to report in this way is therefore profoundly dangerous, the thin end of a wedge that will lead inexorably to much wider reporting restrictions that will undermine the long-held principle that, for justice to be effective, it must be open and transparent,” Black said.
‘We are legislating to introduce an era of silence where children are concerned, when all the evidence of the last few years has underlined the pivotal role of a free press in uncovering scandal and abuse, a point the NSPCC has consistently championed.”
Black also suggested the existence of social networking sites would make the legislation unworkable, and would do nothing to ‘stop the problem of innuendo at the school gates”.
‘In dealing with this issue, Facebook and Twitter are extensions of the school gate, and this legislation will be powerless to stop that.
‘Have the Government not learned from the fiasco of the super-injunctions that it will be impossible to stop internet rumours that are likely to be far more damaging than a responsible media report? Indeed, if the name of a school appears on an internet site, but without the teacher being identified, totally innocent individuals could be maligned.
‘The Government will be replacing responsible journalism that takes care before reporting allegations with the potential anarchy of the internet. Is that what teachers really want?”