Yesterday’s news included the all too familiar reports of a young man being sentenced for a knife murder. Whilst the victim is named and pictured, the reports state that the defendant ‘cannot be named for legal reasons’, without setting out what those legal reasons are. It seems that an application was made in court to name the defendant, but this was refused.
What are these legal reasons?
The general principle is that proceedings should be held in public, the evidence should be heard in public and the media should be allowed to report the proceedings. There are however, a number of exceptions to that principle. There have been recent cases of evidence being heard behind closed doors for reasons of national security; Victims of sexual offences are given life-long anonymity, unless they are later subject to criminal proceedings in relation to the alleged offence (for example Jemma Beale, who was convicted of perjury and perverting the course of justice for making false allegations); Pre-trial rulings relating to the admissibility of evidence or points of law, an unsuccessful application to dismiss at the end of the prosecution case, anything that might identify a child or young person involved in youth court proceedings (with limited exceptions) are all subject to automatic reporting restrictions.
When the defendant is a minor
In relation to under 18s in the Crown Court, S45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 which came into force in April 2015, allows the criminal court to prevent the publication of anything that would identify that young person as a defendant, until that person reaches 18. The court must have regard to the defendant’s welfare and be satisfied that the welfare of the young person outweighs the public interest in open justice. The court can dispense with the restriction at the end of the case if ‘their effect is to impose a substantial and unreasonable restriction on the reporting of the proceedings, and it is in the public interest to remove or relax that restriction’. Once the young person reaches the age of 18, the restrictions cease to apply.
In the case reported yesterday, the Judge refused to allow the defendant to be named, because ‘nothing is added of public import beyond what is already known.’ The facts of the case, and the defendants previous convictions are now a matter of public record, so it is difficult to see how the public not knowing his name is likely to amount to an unreasonable restriction on the reporting of the case.
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