Public Law

Last month the UK Parliament passed the Education Act 2011 making a number of reforms to the provision of education in England and Wales. One of the more controversial provisions in the Act is the inclusion of section 13 which amends the Education Act 2002 and places reporting restrictions on alleged offences committed by teachers. The amendment grants anonymity to teachers accused of committing criminal offences against children. However, there are a number of ways in which that anonymity can come to an end, namely:

  • if the teacher is charged with a criminal offence;
  • if a court makes an order dispensing with anonymity if it is in the interests of justice to do so;
  • if the Education Secretary publishes information about the teacher; or
  • if the General Teaching Council for Wales publishes information about the individual in connection with an investigation, hearing or decision on the allegation.

A teacher may also waive anonymity, although one may wonder, given the tone adopted by some sections of the press in stories of this nature, when it would be in their interests to do so. It is a defence if the allegation is published and at the time of publication the person publishing was not aware, and neither suspected, that the allegation had been made.

There are no corresponding provisions for teachers in Scotland but the Act may nonetheless have some effect here. Publication is defined very widely under section 13 and includes any communication which is addressed to the public at large or any section of the public. This will include communication via the internet. It is not inconceivable that an individual’s name could be reported in the local media in Scotland – when an allegation is at an early stage and no criminal / regulatory proceedings have commenced – due to the teacher having a link with the local community. The publisher may then have committed an offence south of the border. Broadcasters and newspapers should think carefully before reporting any allegation in respect of a teacher where this cross-border element is present. That said, the prosecutors and ultimately the courts in England and Wales will no doubt find themselves presented with the normal difficulties associated with regulating content on the internet where that content originates in another jurisdiction.

Niall McLean