Name & Shame
Rules & Guidelines
Verdicts and sentences in criminal cases are given out in open court and are a matter of public record.
There should be a presumption in favour of the police, local authorities and other relevant criminal justice agencies publicising outcomes of criminal cases and basic personal information about convicted offenders so as to:
– reassure the public;
– increase trust and confidence in the CJS;
– improve the effectiveness of the CJS;
– discourage offending and/or re-offending.
This is not a new concept and this is already happening in many areas.
Providing this information is a legitimate and integral part of activity to engage communities and increase the transparency and accountability of criminal justice services.
The internet gives many more opportunities to make information readily available to the public. But alongside these increased opportunities, come a number of data protection issues that need to be considered.
In the great majority of cases, publication should be straightforward. Unless a Judge imposes a restriction on the availability of Information at the time of the Trial there should not be any reason not to publish such material.
Before submitting any material you need to consider the following:
1 While each case should be dealt with on an individual basis, it may be sufficient to confirm that publicising information about this particular type of offence/offender complies with current local policy. Otherwise, the reason might be that the offence committed, or the type of crime in general, is of particular local concern, or is particularly serious, or has received a particular sentence. The more serious the offence and the sentence, the easier it will be to show that publishing information is justified. But it does not follow that only information about convictions for serious offences can be published.
2 What is the least interference with the offender’s – and, more importantly, his or her family’s – right to respect for private and family life that is possible while still achieving the aim(s) identified? The need to identify an offender, as opposed to simply saying that someone has been sanctioned, should be specifically considered. If it is decided that personal information should be publicised, and while all decisions need to be made on an individual basis, there can be a presumption (which should be set out in a local policy) that ‘basic’ personal information –
e.g. name, age, offence and summary address (but not full address) – can be released unless there are clear reasons to the contrary (these reasons should be surfaced by answering the questions on the checklist). There needs to be a specific justification for publishing additional personal information, in particular a photograph. This could be that this additional information would increase confidence in the CJS, reassure the public, deter potential criminals or help to prevent crime, over and above the publication of ‘basic’ personal information. For instance, publication of a photograph might be justified if:
the offender is known by sight in the area, but not generally by name; therefore residents would need to see a photograph to be reassured that this particular offender has been convicted;
the offences were so prevalent and/or of such concern to the community that it is felt only publication of a photograph could reassure the public that they had been brought to justice;
seeing the offender’s image is likely to encourage victims of and witnesses to other offences to come forward.
3 Information that could be used to identify victims or witnesses should not be released, especially if this would cause the victim undue embarrassment or distress, place them at risk of reprisals from friends or associates of the offender, or expose them to unwanted media or public attention. Victims should anyway be consulted about proposed publicity regardless and made aware of possible press coverage (except possibly in cases where there is no ‘personal’ victim, and/or the crime is already visible to the public – e.g. criminal damage).
4 Similarly, information that could be used to identify offenders’ families (over and above a surname that they share with the offender) should not be released, especially if this would place them at risk of ostracism, harm (e.g. reprisals) or infringement of their own right to respect for their private and family life.
5 Where only a small number of individuals (e.g. the community affected by the crime) need to know the information, then giving it out in a meeting or leaflet will be a more proportionate method of publication than putting it on a website. Communicating case outcomes online will achieve wider publicity and impact than by other means, but may also have long-term adverse consequences for (ex-)offenders if information about their offence is accessed after it has been taken down from a site, as it can be. For this reason, online publicity needs to be justified, and will not usually be appropriate for minor offences/sentences or for first time offenders (although please note paragraph 2).
6 Is the offender known to have a specific vulnerability (e.g. mental health issues or physical ill health), which means that publicising their conviction risks unwarranted adverse consequences (i.e. not simply that the offender objects to the publicity)? That apart, what is the potential impact of the publication of this information in this way on the future rehabilitation of the offender?
7 Although as mentioned above there should be a presumption that ‘basic’ personal information can be released unless there are clear reasons to the contrary, it does not follow that all of this information need be released in each case to achieve the intended aim.
8 The utmost care must be taken not to mistakenly identify the wrong individual as a convicted criminal; the consequences of doing so could be severe for the individual concerned, and lay agencies open to the risk of libel action.
9 Such publicity should be time-limited. The objective is to draw attention to the conviction and sentence when they are handed down, not to provide any kind of ongoing record. The longer information is retained on a website, the greater the opportunity for that information to be misused or subjected to secondary processing by third parties, and the greater the risk that it will become out of date and/or inaccurate. As a general rule, information should be removed from websites after a month.
10 Information published online, particularly photographs, should be in a format that cannot be easily copied/saved by anyone viewing the site. Where a subsequent appeal against a conviction is successful:
if details of the original conviction have been placed on a website; and are still there, they should be removed; and/or
if the original conviction was publicised in other ways, the individual concerned should be offered the opportunity to have the successful appeal publicised in the same way.