Anonymity for victims of FGM
The potential provisions for anonymity for victims in relation to criminal proceedings in relation to criminal offending in Scotland are covered, at present, by media self-regulation in relation to omitting identifying information in relation to sexual offences, and the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995. Sections 271N-271Z of the Act make provision for the courts to, in response to applications and under certain conditions, grant witness anonymity orders, and s. 47 provides that the media shall not provide identifying information in relation to a witness or the accused when that person is under 18.
This section of the consultation asked respondents whether they thought there should be provisions for anonymity for victims of FGM.
Question 1. Do you believe that a provision for anonymity for victims of FGM should be introduced?
If yes, please outline these arguments.
There was strong support for the introduction of anonymity for the victims of FGM, with a large majority of respondents supporting these measures.
Question 2. If anonymity is not introduced and having regard to existing convention and powers of the courts, what further steps do you consider could be taken to ensure protection of victims and complainers of FGM in the Justice system?
If yes, please outline these arguments.
Main Arguments for the Introduction of Anonymity for Victims of FGM:
- It would protect the dignity of those reporting the offence.
- It would encourage women and girls to come forward and make it more likely for them to do so.
- It would ensure that individuals were protected from potential harm/repercussions that might otherwise accrue as a result of their coming forward. The risk of repercussions was emphasised given the community/familial context of FGM and the potential risks of ‘honour-based violence.’
- It would be in line with provisions in England and Wales.
- It was emphasised that many communities stigmatised openness about FGM, and that sharing information about FGM could have negative consequences for those coming forward.
- One respondent suggested that also keeping the perpetrators name anonymous might further improve the protection of victims, as they may well be family members, although they recognised this may have pros and cons.
- Another respondent noted that existing provisions only cover those under 18 and those who seek an anonymity order, which is conditional and has high thresholds. Making this automatically apply to all victims could simplify things from the perspective of those reporting the abuse.
- It was noted by several respondents that women should have the capacity to share information about their FGM status in the event that they wished to do so for campaigning reasons.
Main Arguments Against the Introduction of Anonymity for Victims of FGM:
- The Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 already offered sufficient protection.
- It was not clear that there was a need for further legislation. It was suggested that additional laws could even be counterproductive if they made the procedure more complicated.
- Another respondent noted that before introducing new regulations, the Scottish Government should ensure that current powers are being used effectively and that existing powers were insufficient.
- Another respondent emphasised that there should be greater clarity about and improvement of the provisions for all survivors of gender-based violence, as a lack of certainty could be a deterrent generally.
Alternatives to Anonymity:
A range of alternatives to anonymity were noted in the responses, although many of these effectively amounted to the provision of anonymity by another method or in another form:
- Specific restrictions on media reporting.
- Ensuring protection by the police, including a 24/7 helpline.
- Restricting knowledge to senior personnel within the justice system.
- Strengthening the practice of the Procurator Fiscal requesting anonymity so that this becomes policy with cases of FGM.
- Making the Criminal Procedure Act 1995 more robust.
- Provisions for closed courts in relation to FGM.
- Including the category of FGM in the Vulnerable Witness (Criminal Evidence) (Scotland) Bill, providing victims with additional protections in court.
- A presumption towards anonymity from the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.
- Training for those involved, given the lack of experience with FGM in Scotland, to ensure that there was awareness of the relevant provisions and the issue.
- Introducing a fine or penalty for those who released information.