A teenager who admitted posting material on Facebook inciting thefts and criminal damage has been named by a magistrates’ court.
It is thought that 16-year-old Johnny Melfah, of Droitwich Spa, is the first juvenile arrested and charged in connection with the riots which swept London and other cities in August to have been identified when he appeared in court – although he had not at that stage entered a plea.
Normally, adult courts give juveniles anonymity by making orders under section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
But when Melfah appeared before Worcester Magistrates on Tuesday August 23, Worcester News reporter Richard Vernalls opposed an application for an order, arguing that Melfah should be named because of the charge.
The court refused to make an order – but sent the case to Worcester Youth Court, where Melfah could have expected the automatic anonymity given to juveniles in youth courts by section 49 of the same Act.
However, the magistrates lifted the anonymity, because the teenager had already been named and pictured in newspaper reports.
The decision to identify Melfah came after the Crown Prosecution Service issued guidance for prosecutors on asking court to lift reporting restrictions which give juveniles anonymity – but it refers to cases in which the youngsters have been convicted.
It says Youth Courts have the power to lift the anonymity granted by section 49 if it is in the public interest to do so, adding: “In appropriate circumstances … the prosecutor should remind the court of its power to lift reporting restrictions and make representations to the court on how it should exercise that power”.
Shauneen Lambe, director of charity Just For Kids Law, said society had to consider the long-term consequences of identifying juvenile offenders.
She told the BBC: “I can understand the government feels it has to respond in a certain way to the civil unrest but these are children who are entitled to certain protections under the law.”
The impact on the individual was huge, she said, adding: “If he is no longer able to get the qualifications that he needs to get into employment, then he will become a burden on society rather than the benefit that he has the potential to become.”
The automatic anonymity for juveniles in Youth Courts, and the usual practice in adult courts of giving juveniles anonymity under section 39 of the 1933 Act became an issue immediately after the August riots, when it became clear that a large number of young people had taken part in rioting and looting.
There were protests that youngsters were remaining anonymous even though they had admitted serious offences and participation in violent unrest.