Children to lose court anonymity at 18
Children could be deterred from giving evidence in court cases and young offenders could have their rehabilitation harmed as a result of a legal ruling that will allow them to be named publicly once they turn 18.
The ruling this week by Lord Justice Leveson in a High Court case means that children previously involved in court proceedings as a defendant, witness or victim will lose their anonymity on their 18th birthday.
The decision has been described as “damaging and concerning” by charity Just for Kids Law and leaves children with less protection than vulnerable adults, who have anonymity for life.
Just for Kids Law director and barrister Shauneen Lambe, said: “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. 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.”
She added that the ruling could also harm the rehabilitation of young offenders by allowing the press to publish their identities at a later date.
“The UN Committee of the Rights of the Child states if the defendant was a child when an offence was committed, the traditional objectives of criminal justice give way to rehabilitation and reintegration, rather than retribution. Publishing names of those who were children during court proceedings allows the press to usurp the decision of the criminal courts and impose additional punishments.”
Penelope Gibbs, chair of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, said: “This clarification of the law means that vulnerable witnesses and children who offend may face the harmful glare of publicity just as they are trying to put the past behind them and turn their lives around.
“There is no public interest in identifying child victims, witnesses and offenders who were previously anonymous. We believe the law needs to be changed to stop this happening.”
In the High Court case, Leveson ruled that the anonymity provided to children under Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 automatically expires at age 18.
The case involved two former child defendants given community sentences for offences committed when they were 16 and 17. They were challenging an earlier Crown Court ruling that they could be named now they had reached 18 even though they were no longer involved in court proceedings. The BBC and other media groups joined the action arguing in favour of publication.
In his written judgment, Leveson called on parliament to “fashion a solution…as a matter or urgency”.
He said: “It is truly remarkable that parliament was prepared to make provision for lifetime protection available to adult witnesses…but not to extend that protection to those under 18 once they had reached the age of majority.”