Media reporting on child homicide victims: consultation

This consultation looks at media reporting of and public information sharing about child homicide victims. We are seeking views about options for reducing the trauma this can have on bereaved families.

Ministerial foreword

Losing a child in any circumstances is one of the most traumatic experiences a family will ever experience. Where a child dies as a result of a criminal act, this further compounds the trauma and inevitably involves the family in a criminal justice process and associated public and media attention.

This consultation has been prompted by concerns raised by families bereaved by crime about the traumatic impact of ongoing press and social media coverage of the death of their loved one; in particular, where that loved one, tragically, was a child.

Involving families with experience of such terrible loss, we have already taken forward a number of activities to explore this issue. This has included a roundtable in February 2024 involving victims organisations and media representatives amongst others, meetings with bereaved families and research undertaken by the Scottish Government on international models of anonymity for deceased victims of crimes.

Family members have told us that they would welcome enhanced reporting and publication restrictions, including anonymity for children who have died as a result of a criminal act. They have said these changes would prevent ongoing distress and protect the wellbeing of child siblings of a child who has been killed.

In considering this sensitive area of reporting, media organisations have highlighted press freedoms, the role of the media in reporting on issues that are in the public interest and how traditional news media already self-regulates when it comes to preserving the anonymity of living victims of crime. The considerable challenges of seeking to manage communication of information by non-journalists online through, for example, social media, have also been highlighted.

I have also heard about the challenges, and, in some cases, the distress faced by families in other countries where reporting restrictions have been put in place that prevented them from talking openly about their loved one.

I am very grateful to all those who have shared their views with us so far, bereaved families in particular. It is clear from those conversations that this subject engages a range of complex issues. It is also clear that this is not an issue on which decisions can, or should, be made without a fuller understanding of the consequences – intended and unintended – of any change in policy or legislation.

It is, therefore, crucial that we examine this issue carefully before we determine how best to respond. Therefore, the purpose of this consultation is to draw together views so that next steps can be informed by a wide range of insights and experiences. It is essential that we build on the evidence base and seek to develop a shared understanding of the issues before any decisions are made on future developments, though I recognise that there will always be differing views and proposed approaches to the issues raised.

I have made a promise to those I have met with that I will be open and not make commitments that I cannot deliver on. The consultation explores both non-legislative and legislative options – it is not a commitment to progress legislation in this area, rather to explore what could be done. As is evident from the complexity of the issues set out in this consultation, it is not an area in which legislation, if required, could be made at haste.

Fundamental to any change in approach will be the underlying cultural shift that goes hand-in-hand with the move to a more person-centred, trauma-informed justice system – including how events within that system are reported and represented in wider society. I am under no illusion as to the time such a cultural shift will take but I am confident that progress is being made.

This consultation provides you with the chance to contribute to shaping consideration of future policy – adding to the evidence and views that have already been gathered through our research into anonymity in other jurisdictions, the roundtable I chaired and engagement with bereaved families. I welcome your help in ensuring that any decision we make on our approach to this issue is robust, evidence-based, and ultimately the right approach for the people of Scotland.

Angela Constance

Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Home Affairs

July 2024



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