Not Saussure

February 26, 2007

Naming and shaming juveniles?

Filed under: Law, press — notsaussure @ 4:26 pm

Puzzled about this. It’s generally illegal to publicise the details of young people appearing in court as witnesses, and certainly, if they’re under 18, as defendants, without the Court’s permission. It’s also illegal to provide sufficient information to identify them even though you don’t actually print their name — so called ‘jigsaw identification.’

Consequently, I’m rather puzzled by the case of the 17-year-old who was widely reported last week as having made rude gestures at David Cameron and who was equally widely reported over the weekend and this morning as having been arrested for possession of a small amount of cannabis, being identified in the reports as the lad who’d achieved notoriety earlier in the week through his gesticulations.

To my mind, all that could legally be reported, unless and until a court said otherwise, was that a 17-year-old had been arrested in Manchester for this offence, which might not, in itself, have been particularly newsworthy. The Court may have given permission for him to be named, though I rather doubt it since the BBC account of his conviction and fine still says he can’t be named for legal reasons. The Sun, I see, ignored such legal niceties altogether and went ahead and published his name in their report of his arrest.

I think this is contempt of court, certainly in The Sun’s case and probably in the case of all the other newspapers and broadcasters, too.

One might well argue that enforcing the rules in this case is a bit pointless, but to my mind that’s beside the point. Many people think the prohibition on cannabis is a bit pointless, too, but that’s no defence if you find yourself arrested for possessing it. I see the BBC reports that

The teenager had been held in custody since he was arrested on Saturday.District Judge Wendy Lloyd told the youngster she had been “concerned” that he had been kept in custody for possession of such a small quantity of cannabis.

She said: “That you have been dealt with differently causes me great concern.”

Seems to me this applies equally, or should apply, to publicising his identity. I wonder if we can get the editors of all the national newspapers, and various BBC news editors, arrested for contempt of court (I realise that I’m probably at risk, too, based on what I’ve said in this article, but it would probably be worth it). Certainly, at least prima facie, Rebekah Wade should get her collar felt again.

On a somewhat related topic, I share the disquiet expressed by Bystander JP in The Magistrate’s Blog about the press reports concerning the boy who has become seriously overweight. The Times, for example, sensitively headlines their story, ‘Fat boy may be put in care,’ along with a photograph of the poor child. As Bystander says,

If he appeared in court as a defendant he could not be named. If he were a witness or a victim the court would make an order forbidding the publication of anything that might serve to identify him. For the crime of being fat, he is being publicly humiliated.

The fact his mother, who’s clearly got problems herself, has put his identity into the public domain by agreeing to have a TV programme made about him is hardly any excuse, to my mind.

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  1. On the Cameron gesturing boy, presuming it’s him, I hardly think you could be had up for contempt on what you’ve written but then again – you’re the lawyer.

    Comment by jameshigham — February 26, 2007 @ 4:45 pm

  2. I’m really not sure about this area of the law; strictly speaking, I think I’ve said as much as did the BBC report about which I’m complaining, though I’d argue that by now the lad’s identity is firmly in the public domain.

    Certainly, though, I think the BBC overstepped the mark when they reported his arrest over the weekend, saying they couldn’t name him for legal reasons but he’d been widely reported as having made gestures at David Cameron earlier in the week. To my mind, that’s like saying ‘the 17-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons but who’s the son of the local MP’.

    I’m very tempted to write to the District Judge who heard the case and draw this wide-spread reporting to her attention.

    Comment by notsaussure — February 26, 2007 @ 5:01 pm

  3. I’ve just consulted the resident criminal team (every home should have one) and, assuming it was in the youth court, you’re absolutely right about publishing the 17yo’s details: it’s s49(1) Children and Young Persons Act 33. The bar on publication can only be lifted by order of the court. Unless the DJ made that order, none of the press should have published any identifying details.

    Comment by archrights — February 26, 2007 @ 11:15 pm

  4. Thanks for the confirmation, Archrights. I think I will write to the DJ and see if she will take judicial notice of this — I certainly feel a good deal more strongly about national newspapers indulging in contempt of court than I do about yobs making rude gestures to politicians and smoking dope.

    Comment by notsaussure — February 26, 2007 @ 11:33 pm

  5. […] for the law Not Saussure is questioning whether the press should have identified a certain 17-year-old boy convicted of the […]

    Pingback by Respect for the law « The ARCH Blog — February 26, 2007 @ 11:40 pm

  6. Yes, do it, NSS and report back, right!

    Comment by jameshigham — February 27, 2007 @ 8:27 am

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    Comment by suptqb vdmqai — September 6, 2008 @ 8:20 pm

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