Children formerly involved in court proceedings may be named by the media once they are 18, the High Court ruled today.
Charity Just For Kids Law, which intervened in the case, condemned the decision, which it warned could deter child victims and witnesses from coming forward and impede the rehabilitation of young offenders.
In the case of JC & JT, Sir Brian Leveson ruled that anonymity provided to children under section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 automatically expires when they reach 18 and cannot extend to reports of the proceedings after they have attained that age.
The ruling means that children will have less protection than vulnerable adults, who are afforded anonymity for life under the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.
It means that all child victims and witnesses can named by the media once they become adults, even if they were promised anonymity at the time and proceedings took place many years earlier.
Giving judgment, Leveson (pictured) said: ‘That is not to say that I consider the state of affairs to be satisfactory.’
He said: ‘It is truly remarkable that parliament was prepared to make provision for lifetime protection available to adult witnesses… but not to extend that protection to those under 18 once they had reached the age of majority, even if the same qualifying conditions were satisfied.’
Leveson said counsel for the BBC, which intervened as an interested party, Doughty Street’s Gavin Millar QC, did not have any satisfactory answer to how this ‘lacuna in the law’ might be addressed, save to point out that victims and witnesses could apply for an injunction – a solution that Leveson described as ‘entirely unrealistic’.
Leveson said the decision has ‘wide implications’ not only for young defendants but also for victims, witnesses, others concerned in proceedings and the media.
He recognised that victims and witnesses need ‘individual and tailor-made protection’, but said ‘it would be wrong to seek to create a solution out of legislation that was simply not designed to have regard to what is now understood of their needs’.
He called on parliament to ‘fashion a solution… as a matter of real urgency.’
Shauneen Lambe, director of Just for Kids Law, said the ‘damaging and concerning’ ruling could impact on anyone who historically came forward as an anonymous child victim or witness.
She 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.
‘The BBC’s own child protection policy says that children’s best interests are at the heart of everything that they do, but I am not sure children would agree. 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.’
Lambe pointed to the provision in the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child stating that when a defendant is a child when an offence is committed, the traditional objectives of criminal justice must give way to rehabilitation and re‑integration, rather than retribution.
‘Publishing names of those who were children during court proceedings allows the press to usurp the decision of the criminal courts and impose additional punishment,’ she said.
Today’s case involved two former defendants, JC and RT who were given community sentences for offences committed when they were 16 and 17.
In 2013 both pleaded guilty to an offence of joint possession, without lawful reason of an explosive substance. In the case of JC, the substance was parts for pipe bombs and for RT it was petrol bombs.
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 news groups joined the action as interested parties, arguing in favour of being able to publicise the names of those who had been granted anonymity when they were children.
Leveson said that the Recorder of London, who made the earlier decision that the claimants could be named, was correct and dismissed the judicial review. The claimants plan to appeal. A spokesperson for the BBC said: 'We believe there is a strong public interest in ensuring accurate and responsible reporting of these cases after the defendants are deemed to be adults.'
The full judgment is here.