Although the case of Saward v The Sun was not taken to court, it led to a tightening of UK law regarding protection of the identities of alleged rape victims. Instead of anonymity being granted to the victim after the defendant had been formally charged, as it had been previously done, it was amended to begin as soon as the allegation was made to the police. Conversely, the change in law resulted in the complete removal of anonymity for defendants.
In early March 1986, The Sun published a front page photo of Jill Saward who had come to the media’s attention after suffering a horrific rape (known as the ‘Ealing vicarage rape’) the week before. The only attempt to conceal her identity was a thick black line across her eyes, which was insufficient because she was still recognised. Ms Saward’s brother – a journalist – lodged a complaint against the newspaper to the [now defunct] Press Council.
The law at that time allowed a rape victim’s identity to be published only if it would help to catch the alleged perpetrator – a loophole which The Sun used in its letter of defence. The newspaper’s then managing editor, Kelvin MacKenzie, refused to issue an apology; claiming that publishing the photo was part of its duty to portray rape as a “sordid crime” (Media Law, 2007: p. 783). Although the Press Council condemned the action, the newspaper had not technically breached the law – only gone against codes of practice. The ensuing public outcry instigated [then] Ealing North MP Harry Greenway’s call for a change in the law.
At the time of Ms Saward’s ordeal, the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1976 (s. 4 & 5) was insufficient to protect her identity in the face of The Sun’s ‘public interest’ claims. This had a huge influence. It indirectly produced Section 158 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 that stipulates that after a rape allegation has been made, the alleged victim’s name, address or still/moving picture should not be published “if that is likely to lead members...
References: The Sunday Times: ‘Paying a terrible price for a rape that never was’ by Deidre Fernand; November 19, 2006.
The Independent: ‘Anger at coalition plans for rape defendants’ anonymity’ by Chris Greenwood (Press Association); May 20, 2010.
Mail Online: ‘Women who cry rape could soon face public shaming’ by Steve Doughty; January 9, 2007.
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