The controversial Education Bill was published on 26 January 2011. A proposed new restriction (clause 13 of the Bill) will apply where a pupil or their representative makes an allegation that their teacher has committed a criminal offence against a registered pupil at the teacher’s school. It will prohibit the publication of any matter relating to the teacher which is “likely to lead members of the public to identify the person as the teacher who is the subject of the allegation”. The media can apply to vary or discharge this restriction, but the Court is required to take into account on any application the welfare of the teacher. The restrictions end once criminal proceedings are brought, when the usual laws on reporting cases take over. Breaching the new reporting restriction will be a criminal offence. Charges can be brought against the proprietor, editor or publisher of a newspaper, the producer of a TV programme and anybody who publishes material online.
This is a potentially significant extension of privacy rights. Clearly the Government wants to stop teachers’ careers being ruined by bogus allegations being made against them by their pupils. On one level it is difficult to disagree with the sentiment – nobody likes having untrue allegations made against them. But why should teachers be treated differently to any other group of workers? What about doctors, nurses, dentists, social workers, lawyers or even politicians (such as those accused of fiddling their expenses)?
And what about other people suspected of breaking the law, such as those accused of murder, burglary or fraud? There seems to be little justification for stopping the media reporting what can be very important allegations when they arise, subject of course to the usual protection afforded by the laws of libel and contempt. The alternative will prevent the media from properly reporting on alleged wrongdoing.