Although there is a general principle of open justice, that those who appear in court can be reported on, there are some exceptions.
It is a contempt of court to publish anything to the public which creates a substantial risk that the course of justice in the proceedings will be seriously impeded or prejudiced, even if there is no intent to cause prejudice. This means that ignorance of the restriction is no defence.
Automatic reporting restrictions
Victims of sexual offences
Victims of a wide range of sexual offences are given lifetime anonymity. This extends to reporting on any matter likely to identify the victim as well as just the victim’s name. There is no restriction on naming the defendant in a sex case although care must be taken to ensure that naming the defendant does not lead to identification of the victim.
Automatic restrictions also apply to rulings at pre-trial hearings, preparatory hearings, unsuccessful dismissal proceedings, allocation and sending proceedings in Magistrates’ Courts, prosecution appeals against rulings, special measures directions, alleged offences by teachers against pupils, indecent material calculated to injure public morals and youth court proceedings.
There is an exception to the open justice principle, which generally bars the public from attending youth court proceedings. Although the press is allowed access, they are prohibited from publishing the name, address or school or any other matter likely to identify a person under the age of 18 as being “concerned in the proceedings”.
The restriction can be lifted in certain circumstances, that it is appropriate to do so to avoid injustice to the child, to assist in the search for a missing convicted, or alleged offender charged with a violent or sexual offence or for a convicted child if it is in the interest of justice to do so.
This automatic protection does not extend to civil proceedings, such as behaviour injunctions.
Discretionary reporting restrictions
The court can make reporting restrictions in other circumstances. A youth defendant, victim or witness in adult criminal proceedings can be granted anonymity until he or she reaches the age of 18. Youth courts can also grant lifelong anonymity to juvenile victims and witnesses.
Certain adult witnesses in criminal proceedings can also have reporting restrictions imposed in relation to them. Such a witness is eligible for protection if the quality of his evidence or his co-operation in the case is likely to be diminished by reason of fear or distress in connection with identification by the public as a witness.
Are there any defences?
There are three specific defences under the Act. The first is that it is a “fair and accurate report of legal proceedings held in public, published contemporaneously and in good faith”. The second is that a publisher or distributor can how that they took reasonable care and did not know or have reason to suspect that proceedings were active (publishers) or, thirdly, that a publication contained matter in breach of the strict liability rule (distributors).
Can I use reporting restrictions to keep my case details and identity out of the papers?
In most cases it will simply not be possible to have reporting restrictions imposed merely to stop local or national press reporting details of the case.
Where an application for reporting restrictions can properly be made, we will of course advise you as to the procedure and prospects of success.
How can we help?
If you need specialist advice, then get in touch with any member of our vastly experienced Criminal Defence team, for assistance with any criminal law related matter.