You are here

Law must be changed 'with urgency' to protect child victims, Leveson says

Victims and witnesses need 'individual and tailor-made protection' on anonymity

9 April 2014

Add comment

Parliament must act "with real urgency" to reform the laws on the anonymity of child victims and witnesses, Sir Brian Leveson has said.

Sir Brian said these children needed "individual and tailor-made protection" within the criminal justice system, and gave as an example the "victims of female genital mutilation, recently the subject of calls for anonymity".

He was giving judgment at the High Court, which ruled that Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 does not extend to reports of proceedings where the subject of the order has reached the age of 18.

The case involved two teenagers who appeared at the Old Bailey at the age of 17 and pleaded guilty to possession of explosives. The Crown accepted that they did this without intending to endanger life or cause serious damage to property.

A third teenager, since named as Michael Piggin, admitted similar charges but was accused of more serious offences, including under the Terrorism Act 2000. All three began with the benefit of an order under Section 39, preventing their identification by the media.

Following the guilty pleas of the first two defendants, the recorder lifted the ban on identification of Piggin. The jury could not agree, and a retrial was ordered. By this time, all three defendants had reached the age of 18.

The first two, who had been given community sentences, applied for judicial review, challenging the recorder's view that their anonymity orders expired on their 18th birthdays.

Ruling in JC and RT v the Central Criminal Court [2014] EWHC 1041 (QB), Sir Brian said: "The glare of publicity arising from contemporaneous reporting of proceedings that themselves are highly stressful is a heavy burden even on adults, and it is sensible that children should usually be protected from that combination. "But once the proceedings are over, news reports of proceedings are and always have been less likely and there is no reason to provide the same protection."

Sir Brian said he did not accept that the true purpose behind the 1933 Act was to aid rehabilitation of young offenders, and said one of the significant features of Section 39 was that it made no separate provision for the treatment of "three entirely different classes of children" - defendants, victims and witnesses.

Sir Brian went on: "There is no reason which necessarily requires child victims, witnesses, those concerned in proceedings and defendants to be treated in the same way: they have different needs. The statutory scheme for the protection of children and young persons contained within s.39 simply does not seek to address the different issues that arise.

"Victims and witnesses need individual and tailor-made protection within the criminal justice system: an example of such a need relates to the victims of female genital mutilation, recently the subject of calls for anonymity.

"In my judgement, it would be wrong to seek to create a solution out of legislation that was simply not designed to have regard to what is now understood of their needs and to the primacy attached to their legitimate interests. Therefore, it is for parliament to fashion a solution: the problem requires to be addressed as a matter of real urgency."

Sir Brian dismissed the application for judicial review. Mr Justice Cranston and Mr Justice Holroyde agreed.

Just for Kids Law, a charity providing legal representation for young people in difficulties, intervened in the case, while the BBC and the CPS were interested parties.

"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 Savile scandal," Just for Kids director Shauneen Lambe said.

"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."

Categorised in:

Children