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.