Friday, 16 January 2015

From the webpage that named the complainant who was perversely found by the jury to have been raped by Ched Evans

Here is what was said, mutatis mutandis.

"This is some material I've collected on the Ched Evans rape case

This is a case which has achieved considerable notoriety in the UK for a variety of reasons. There was considerable controversy over the conviction in this case, with opinion becoming polarized between supporters of both sides, and different views as to what constituted 'rape', and the rights and wrongs of the law on rape as presently written in the UK.

I'd like to make clear I don't have any axe to grind in this case. I don't know Ched Evans (the accused, and a professional football player of considerable fame and skill, it appears), and I don't know the victim. I have no particular view on the rights and wrongs of the conviction.

Where I DO have an interest is in the cyberlegal situation which followed. The rape victim name was, it seems, not a particularly well-kept secret, and following the acquittal it was tweeted by supporters of Mr. Evans.. and retweeted, and retweeted so often that for a time it was 'trending' on Twitter.

The UK doesn't have a first amendment, and much speech which is protected under the US constitution is a crime if spoken in the UK. In particular, it's a criminal offence for the 'media' - principally newspapers and broadcasters (TV & radio), that's how the law is worded - to disclose the name or other identifying information of the alleged victim in a rape case. There was such a furore from those who.. disagreed with the supporters of Mr. Evans.. that the UK police decided to take the stance that individual tweets (which are to me at least very clearly the electronic equivalent of 'gossip') are to be deemed to be the same as a large-scale publication under editorial control, like a newspaper or TV station, and have arrested (I believe, at the last count) 17 individuals and charged them. These are clearly test cases and if the courts DO decide to uphold the police interpretation of the Sexual Offences Act, literally tens of thousands of prosecutions could take place. The maximum penalty is only a fine, but also there would likely be registration as sex offenders, with all the consequences that follow. As a libertarian with a profound belief in free speech, this is a matter of some concern to me.

Whether or not the law can be stretched to encompass Twitter in the way the police & CPS are attempting is very much an open, and doubtful, question in my opinion. There is a House of Commons Library document describing the interpretation of the law: from which I quote:

"Anonymity works by making it a criminal offence for the media to reveal the complainant's identity or any information that might lead to the complainant being identified. The prohibition kicks in as soon as the complaint is made and lasts for the whole of the complainant's lifetime. The law does not prevent complainants from being named in court, nor is there any restriction on their being named in discussions other than in the media." (my emphasis). It seems to be a very common misconception, from many of the comments I've read, that rape victims in the UK are entitled to total and unqualified anonymity. That's very far from the case as you can see.

I think it's going to be virtually impossible to make these prosecutions stick. Which is a good thing; given that the victim's name was 'trending' on Twitter there must have been tens of thousands of retweets - and prosecuting only a tiny handful of them whilst making a point of ignoring the rest would be 'justice by making examples' - which is of course no justice at all!

That's the background to why I got involved in the case - reading, and to a limited extent debating, the matter.

One thing that came out in the debate was an accusation that the victim herself had used Twitter, in the run-up to the trial, claiming that she would 'win big' - the inference being that she referred to a possible civil suit, or selling her story to the newspapers. It's been further stated that she had 'tried this before' - made more than one previous accusation of rape against rugby players or other professional sportsmen, allegations which were not sustained.

So I used my hacker skills, and turned detective.

The complainant had restricted her Twitter account, then deleted it, thinking that would hide her earlier tweets. It was far from straightforward, but I eventually unearthed some of them, by very devious manipulation of Google search results; they were gone from all the Twitter servers, and from the Google cache, but I unearthed the only remaining copies, eventually, in the Google *text-mode* cache of the *French* Twitter server(!):

Astonishingly, and perhaps partly responsible for the widespread knowledge of the victims name, Sky News ran a story about how feelings were running high on Twitter, accompanied by a screenshot which.. yes.. *showed the victim's name*! Doh. Journalism FAIL. That IS illegal in the UK, since Sky, unlike Twitter, IS part of the 'broadcast media'. They claim it was shown accidentally; police are investigating that too.

Her new Twitter account.

Once again, for avoidance of doubt; there's no animus towards either party in the case here. I don't especially know or care what the truth of the rape allegations was. And I'm certainly not defending some of the quite vile abuse the victim received online. My interest stems entirely from the cyberlegal / civil liberties / free speech aspects of the case. Here in the USA, none of the offences of which Twitter users have been accused in the UK would be criminal matters.

The big question; what boots it for British law to make it illegal to name a rape victim, or a British judge to impose an injunction granting a gag order to a celebrity or a corporation in a court case, when *everyone else on the internet*, from Bangalore to Baltimore, is free to tweet and blog the names and information with impunity? There's a fascinating collision between the law as written and the facts on the ground in progress at this time. The law is *way* behind the reality of the internet and its bypassing of geographical and political borders, and the unarguable fact is the 'old' legal standards for secrecy and contempt will simply have to give way; they're unsustainable."

Perhaps "Je suis le Namer du laitier qui a faussement accusé de viol Ched Evans" is a bit too long for Twitter. Oh well. Back to the drawing board ...


Arco Trent said...

They were found guilty ofc and hit with compensation orders of £624 each.(circa $1000 at that time).
One woman only named the alleged victim in the context of a retweet, with her own text simply being her own opinion (albeit a strong one).
That sets a disturbing precedent.
It's equivalent to a paperboy being sued for a journalist's libel!
NB Good detective work! I doubt you'll help me but I'm intrigued as to how you could specifically search the French caches.Cheers.

Claire Khaw said...

W H Smith has been sued in the past over defamatory material contained in Private Eye. Those who repeat the libel and distribute it are considered equally liable by the law.