The British government is considering a change in its laws that would guarantee alleged victims of domestic violence the same privacy granted to individuals in rape, divorce and sexual abuse cases. In the United States legal guarantees of privacy are only afforded to minors in such cases, but in Great Britain apparently the courts extend privacy to adults in such cases as well.
The change in the law has an odd motivation — the Home Office is concerned about the number of women who withdraw their allegations of domestic violence before the case against the alleged perpetrator can go to trial. An unidentified Labor Party source told The Independent (UK),
We need to address the problem of women who have suffered abuse and want the police to act but don’t want all their family and sexual history put on display. People in the family courts or who have been sexually abused don’t have their identity revealed but in many cases the same personal information will be disclosed in domestic violence cases.
But, of course, in the case of a marital domestic violence case it’s going to be difficult to hide the identity of the alleged victim unless the identity of the alleged perpetrator is also going to be made private.
Second, it seems to be a dubious contention at best that women withdraw their allegations of violence because of fear of publicity over the case. This assumes that victims of domestic violence always perceive their interests as best served by a legal prosecution of their victimizer but are being thwarted by an invasive media. The Labor government should be called to provide some evidence for that sort of claim.
That being said, the practice of granting anonymity to individuals involved in legal cases should be done only with great care and when the damage likely to be done to the individuals far outweighs the need for transparency in such processes. It’s hard to imagine, for example, how British citizens are served by having divorced proceedings hide the identity of litigants. Similarly, although the press in the United States generally chooses not to run the identity of alleged rape victims by custom, making it illegal to do so is an unnecessary limitation on the transparency of such legal actions.
Battered women may get right to anonymity in court. Marie Woolf, The Independent (UK), June 11, 2003.
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