Editors' appeal victory a boost for court reporting

Briffett, left, and Bradshaw: convictions and fines quashed on appeal

Appeal court judges have quashed criminal convictions on two Sussex editors which had threatened draconian restrictions on  the way court cases involving children are reported.

In a test case, Simon Bradshaw, 42, editor of the The Argus, Brighton, and David Briffett, 62, retired editorial director of the West Sussex County Times, appealed against convictions and fines, imposed by Mid-Sussex magistrates in March, for breaching a Section 39 order by identifying a boy expelled from school.

But Lord Justice Laws, sitting with Lord Justice Newman, said: "The appellants stand acquitted of the charges. That is the end of the matter."

They said it was down to responsible editors to judge what could be reported under a Section 39 order.

Both Bradshaw and Briffett came away from the court relieved men, feeling they had been vindicated in the editing judgements they made on the story.

Bradshaw said: "I am absolutely elated – it’s a feeling of justification that we had been right all along. It was very clear that both justices were unhappy at the idea of seeing editors criminalised.

"It was a message to the Crown Prosecution Service that next time it considers prosecuting editors for exercising their freedom of expression and taking care in doing so, it should think very hard about the strength of its case. I’m very happy to have the spectre of the conviction hanging over me lifted.

"This decision defends the rights of newspapers to properly report the courts, which the original magistrates’ decision threatened to destroy."

Briffett told Press Gazette: "I was thrilled by the decision but always hopeful that this was the way it would turn out. It would have been dreadful for the whole of the British press, which would have forever been looking over its shoulder on Section 39 orders."

Lord Justice Laws had said the order restricting what the journalists could report had been unclear.

"Someone faced with an order shouldn’t have to make any assumptions. He should be told by the court what he cannot do, and, by inference, what he can do, without having to burrow through books. I would have thought that is repugnant to common law and has been for hundreds of years," he said.

Mr Justice Newman said editors faced a difficult task, adding: "Section 39 comes from the basis that an editor has freedom to publish, apart from exceptions which the court can lay down. If there is someone with their nose around the lace curtains every day of the week, a sensible court would say that would not amount to a likelihood they were going to identify."

The judges will give written reasons and a decision on costs in October.

The case hinged on articles published last year which accurately reported a High Court case in which a boy successfully challenged his school’s decision to expel him.

The newspaper reports did not include the boy’s name, address or school but the magistrates heard a family friend – with children at the same school before the boy was excluded – had identified him from the details.

 

By Jean Morgan

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