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Outcry over child anonymity ruling
Fiona Bawdon, a freelance journalist and the development manager of Just for Kids Law, writes:
Children’s charities,including the NSPCC and Just for Kids Law, have expressed concern at the recent High Court ruling that former child defendants and victims can be named in the media once they reach age 18.
In the case of JC and RT v Central Criminal Court and (1) Crown Prosecution Service (2) British Broadcasting Corporation and Just for Kids Law (intervener) [2014] EWHC 1041 (QB), 8 April 2014, the High Court was asked to clarify whether anonymity provided to children under Children and Young Persons Act 1933 s39 expires automatically at age 18. The judges, led by Sir Brian Leveson, President of the Queen’s Bench Division, ruled that, under the wording of the Act, children who were formerly involved in court proceedings can be named once they are 18. Sir Brian recognised the need to protect child victims and witnesses, but said that the court could not ‘create a solution out of legislation that was simply not designed to have regard to what is now understood of their needs’ (para 37). He called on parliament to ‘fashion a solution … as a matter of real urgency’ (para 37). The ruling means that children will have less protection than vulnerable adults, who are covered under a later statute (the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999), which gives anonymity for life. Sir Brian described the discrepancy as ‘truly remarkable’ (para 37). Just for Kids Law and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice are to launch a campaign for an urgent change in the law to give children the protection of anonymity into adulthood.
JC and RT involved two former child defendants given community sentences for offences committed when they were 16 and 17. The claimants were challenging an earlier Crown Court ruling that they could be named now they had reached 18, even though they were no longer involved in any court proceedings. The BBC and a raft of news groups joined the action as interested parties. Just for Kids Law was given permission to intervene in the case, arguing that anonymity under section 39 should extend beyond the age of 18. The charity’s director, barrister Shauneen Lambe, said: ‘The difficulties of encouraging child victims and witnesses to come forward are well recognised, as has been reported by the NSPCC report into the Jimmy Savile scandal. For a child, knowing that they could be named in the world’s press once they turn 18, could be a real deterrent to their coming forward.’

About the author(s)

Description: Fiona Bawdon - author
Fiona Bawdon is a freelance legal affairs journalist and founder and co-organiser of the LALY awards.