Today's ruling (8 April) by Lord Justice Leveson that children previously involved in court proceedings can be named in the media after they are 18 is 'damaging and concerning' warns Just for Kids Law director and barrister Shauneen Lambe.
In the case of JC & RT v CPS & BBC, the High Court was asked to rule whether the anonymity provided to children under s39 of the Children & Young Persons Act 1933 automatically expires at age 18. In a decision led by Lord Justice Leveson, the court ruled that, under the wording of the act, children formerly involved in court proceedings can be named once they are 18.
In his written judgment, Lord Justice Leveson recognised the need to protect child victims and witnesses but said 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.’ He called on parliament to ‘fashion a solution...as a matter of real urgency.’
Following the ruling, children will have less protection than vulnerable adults, who are covered under a later statute (Youth Justice & Criminal Evidence Act 1999), which gives anonymity for life. Commenting on this discrepancy in his judgment, Lord Justice Leveson 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.'
The case of 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, arguing in favour of being able to publicise the names of those who had been granted anonymity when they were children.
The ruling means that all child victims and witnesses will also now be able to be named once they become adults, even if they were promised anonymity at the time and proceedings were many years earlier. This could have real impact on anyone who historically came forward as an anonymous child victim or witness.
Just for Kids Law Director 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 Saville 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.'
Shauneen Lambe added: 'The UN Committee of the Rights of the Child states if the defendant was a child when an offence was 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.'
NOTES FOR EDITORS
- JC & RT (claimants) v Central Criminal Court (defendants), Crown Prosecution Service, British Broadcasting Corporation (interested parties), Just for Kids Law (intervener) (CO/642/2014)
- Just for Kids Law acted as intervener in the case.
- Just for Kids Law was represented by Ian Wise QC and Maria Roche of Doughty Street Chambers on a pro bonobasis
- Counsel for the claimants was Joel Bennathan QC (instructed by Straw & Pierce).
- The claimants are planning to appeal the ruling.
- Just for Kids Law is an award-winning charity, which provides legal representation, support and advocacy to young people in legal difficulties. www.justforkidslaw.org