Section 8: Reporting Crime and Anti-Social Behaviour

Dealing with Witnesses and Victims of Crime

Jump to

  1. Interviews
  2. Payments
  3. Disguising Identities
  4. Children and Young People



We must be scrupulous about our interviews with witnesses, both in the UK and overseas, to ensure that we do not interfere in the legal process.  When conducting news interviews with people who have recently witnessed a crime we should be aware of the possibility of contempt of court if proceedings are active.

Witnesses should not normally be interviewed about their evidence once proceedings are under way and until the verdict has been reached.  Any proposal to do so must be referred to Programme Legal Advice and Editorial Policy. Witnesses sometimes claim to have been coached by a journalist.  To protect ourselves against any unfair accusation and, with the knowledge of the interviewee, we should record and keep the whole interview, including any pauses, interruptions, prompting, repeat questions, or re-takes.





Witnesses, or anyone who may reasonably be expected to be called as a witness during active criminal proceedings, must not be paid, or promised a payment, directly or indirectly (such as through fixers or intermediaries), for their story.  Nor should any payment be suggested or made dependent on the outcome of the trial.  Only actual expenditure or loss of earnings necessarily incurred during the making of a contribution may be reimbursed.




People who might reasonably be expected to be witnesses where criminal proceedings are likely and foreseeable should not be paid for their story unless there is a clear public interest, such as the investigation of a crime or serious wrongdoing, and the payment is necessary to elicit the information.  Where such a payment is made it will be appropriate to disclose the payment to both defence and prosecution if the person becomes a witness in any subsequent trial.



Any proposal to pay a witness or potential witness in a trial must be referred to Director Editorial Policy and Standards and Programme Legal Advice.


Disguising Identities


There may be legal reasons why the identities of people involved in a trial may not be reported.  If it is necessary to protect the identity of crime victims and witnesses, anonymity normally means no name, no address, no photograph, or any other clue as to identity.

We should also take care not to identify people indirectly by what is known as a "jigsaw effect".  This occurs when separate reports, which could be in different media, give different details of a case which, when pieced together, reveal the identity of the person involved.  The risk is at its highest when reporting sexual crime within the family.  We should take care not to refer to incest where someone might be identified as the victim. In such cases, incest should be described as a "serious sexual offence".

(See Section 6 Fairness, Contributors and Consent 6.4.10 - 6.4.12 and Section 18 The Law: 18.6 - 18.9)

Children and Young People


We must take great care when dealing with anyone under 18 involved as a witness or victim, when reporting an investigation into an alleged criminal offence in the UK.  We must make judgements about their vulnerability before revealing their name, address, school or other educational establishment, place of work, or any still or moving picture of them.

(See Section 9 Children and Young People as Contributors)

If criminal proceedings follow, there are legal restrictions surrounding the publication of information leading to the identity of anyone under 18 who is a witness or a victim.  For further information contact Programme Legal Advice.  There are separate legal considerations in Scotland.  Advice is available from the Principal Solicitor Scotland.

(See Section 18 The Law: 18.9)



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.