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Rape and Sexual Offences:         Chapter 20: Media Guidance for Rape Prosecutors


Is the case of Media interest?

The Area Communication Manager (ACM) should be notified at an early stage of any rape prosecution or case involoving an allegation of rape (including a false allegation) that is likely to attract local media attention. The caseworker or lawyer will need to keep the ACM informed of the progress of the case so that the ACM in turn can notify Press Office. Any pre-trial media briefing should be advised upon by the ACM.

Any decision to disclose information or material to the media must be taken in consultation with the ACM and must have the consent of the CCP or DCCP. Such a decision must never be made by the reviewing lawyer alone.

HQ Press Office should be notified at an early stage if the case is likely to attract national media interest. This may be, for example, because:

  • the defendant is famous;
  • the complainant is famous (see publicity around complainant below);
  • the case is one of a serial rapist;
  • a high profile cold case solved because of DNA advances;
  • a case involving the prosecution of a complainant who has made an allegation of rape, for example for perverting the course of justice;

These are only some examples - there may be other reasons why cases are of interest to the national media. If in doubt, it is best to notify Press Office.

With a particularly high profile case, the police and CPS may wish to do a pre-trial briefing. Press Office should be consulted about this and will advise on any arrangements.

Sometimes a case does not attract media interest until it comes to an unexpected end; or issues suggesting mishandling at an investigative stage arise, such as in R v Kirk Reid and R v John Warboys; or the judge makes a newsworthy comment (''drunken consent is still consent'') or passes an unduly lenient sentence. Press Office and the ACM should be notified by the lawyer or caseworker at court immediately and a statement agreed to be given to the media.

At the end of a successful prosecution it is useful to give the ACM a few paragraphs to be used as case studies to combat negative stories about the handling of cases or the low conviction rate for rape. If there is media interest, these paragraphs can be used as the basis of a press release or interview.

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Media inquiries at Court

If approached at court for factual information, such as the spelling of the defendant's name, details of the charge, date of next appearance, there is no reason why such information should not be given. If a prosecutor is asked for their name by a representative of the media, they should provide their full name.

If a journalist is asking about reporting restrictions, it is worthwhile making sure they know about the existence of any orders and that they are clear they cannot report anything which might identify the complainant. They should also be advised to check with the court who have an obligation to give details of reporting restrictions to the media on request.

In high profile cases, it is likely that the CPS may be asked for a comment at the end of a case. In such cases it is good practice to have a press release prepared and cleared in advance, in consultation with Press Office and the ACM, ready to be given to the media once a verdict is reached. In high profile cases, the ACM and/or Press Office may be present to deal with the media.

Where a case ends unexpectedly and the media at court is asking for a comment, the national media should be referred to the Press Office (020 3357 0906) and the local media to the ACM. As soon as possible, speak to the press officer and ACM to let them know of the media interest and tell them what has happened. It will be necessary to agree a response to be given to the media which needs to be cleared by the reviewing lawyer, unit head, DCCP or CCP, and occasionally the DPP, depending on the issues.

When asked for a comment on a case, we never respond by saying ''no comment'' or ''we do not discuss individual cases''. This is because we are being given an opportunity to comment and by using these phrases although not having made an active comment we are considered to have commented on the case. This allows the journalist to put his/her slant on the case.

Instead refer the journalist to the Press Office or the make an appropriate response.

It is also untrue to say we do not discuss individual cases - we often do.

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Publicity around complainant

Section 1 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 provides that complainants in sexual offence cases are entitled to lifelong anonymity in the media (although they can waive this right), and should not be identified in a written publication available to the public or a relevant programme for reception in England and Wales. Section 5 makes it an offence to breach these provisions. A prosecution may be brought only by, or with the consent of, the Attorney General. 

Prosecutors should not assume that the media understands the provisions. For example, a local newspaper was prosecuted for naming the victims of sex trafficking (section 57, Sexual Offences Act 2003) despite being unaware that they should not name the women. If necessary, counsel should ask the judge to remind the media that someone cannot be identified.

Where the complainant may be well known to the media, or attract interest because of family connections (e.g. ''sister of British Hollywood film star'') it may be necessary to ask the judge to address the media to avoid jigsaw identification, where different media outlets report different details which when put together identify the complainant. This is a particular risk in high profile cases in which the media will want to give as much detail as possible.

There may also be a need to ensure the complainant avoids a ''press pack'' at the front of the court by entering at the back door. A press pack, particularly if there is a high profile defendant such as a Premiership footballer, is very intimidating. This sort of practical arrangement should be discussed with the police, Family Liaison Officer (FLO) and the Witness care Unit (WCU) to minimise the impact on the complainant.

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Release of prosecution material under the Protocol

The CPS, ACPO and various media organisations have signed a Protocol on the Release of Prosecution Material. This can be seen at:

Where material is shown to the court, the media can request a copy (see the protocol for details) but clearly should not publish or broadcast anything which would identify the complainant. Examples are given in the protocol of the sort of material which would normally be released, as well as material which may be released after consultation with victims, witnesses and family members.

In high profile cases, it is advisable to discuss with the police in advance what material is likely to be released under the protocol and when. Sometimes material is released during the trial and in other cases it is released post-verdict. The question of when material is released frequently depends on resources and practical considerations.

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