Newspapers have won the right to identify a man arrested but never charged following a child sex grooming investigation in a landmark Supreme Court ruling today. In Khuja v Times Newspapers Limited and others, justices ruled that the principle of open justice outweighs any harm done to the individual's private or family life by reporting the arrest.
The case arose from the trial of nine men in the Oxford area after a police investigation into child sex grooming and prostitution. Seven men were convicted in 2013. The appellant, originally identified as PNM, was arrested at the same time, apparently on the basis of his first name, but released after an alleged victim failed to identify him. He was not charged with any offence but his identity emerged in evidence given at the Old Bailey trial. He secured an injunction under section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 preventing newspapers from naming him on the basis coverage might prejudice a future trial.
When the threat of proceedings receded, PNM applied for an injunction against The Times and the Oxford Mail that would have preserved his anonymity. It was rejected by the High Court, a decision backed by the Court of Appeal in 2014.
Ruling on an appeal by PNM, the seven Supreme Court justices split 5:2. Lord Sumption, backed by Lord Neuberger, Lady Hale, Lord Clarke and Lord Reed, dismissed the appeal, ruling that the appellant be referred to in the title of the proceedings under his real name, Tariq Khuja. 'It has been recognised for many years that press reporting of legal proceedings is an extension of the concept of open justice, and is inseparable from it,' Sumption said. 'In reporting what has been said and done at a public trial, the media serve as the eyes and ears of a wider public which would be absolutely entitled to attend but for purely practical reasons cannot do so.'
Dissenting, Lord Kerr and Lord Wilson said that previous rulings had failed to recognise that, while most most people might understand that an arrested person is not guilty in law, that 'is distinctly different' from most people's assumptions of guilt. Referring to the Leveson Inquiry's findings on the tendency of arrest to be associated with guilt, they concluded 'that the scales have descended heavily in favour of PNM’s rights under article 8 [of the European Convention on Human Rights].'
In a leading article, The Times described the ruling as 'an important victory for open justice'.
However Anna Rothwell of criminal firm Corker Binning said: ’This will be an extremely disappointing judgment for privacy campaigners and lawyers, as there has in recent years been a growing recognition that the identity of those suspected of crimes should not generally be released to the public before charge.’
Manuel Barca QC and Hannah Ready, instructed by Collyer Bristow, appeared for the appellant. Gavin Millar QC and Adam Wolanski, instructed by Times Newspapers Limited’s legal department and Newsquest Media Group Limited’s legal department, for the respondents.