High Court confirms that Section 39 child anonymity orders expire when subject turns 18

The High Court has ruled that Section 39 order preserving the anonymity of children involved in criminal proceedings do not apply once they have turned 18.

The case follows an appeal lodged by two teenagers – referred to as JC and RT – who appeared in court in 2012, when they were aged 17, and pleaded guilty to possession of explosives.

Prosecutors accepted that the pair, who had parts for pipe bombs and petrol bombs, did not intend to endanger life or damage property.

A third defendant, also 17, admitted similar charged but faced trial on a further more serious offence under the Terrorism Act.

All three were subject to an order under Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Action 1939 banning publication of anything which could identify them.

After the pleas of JC and RT, the judge in the case ruled that the anonymity order should continue but noted that it would automatically expire when they turned 18.

The pair were also witnesses in the trial of a third individual, who was named as Michael Piggin when his case came to trial because he had turned 18.

The pair sought to retain their anonymity as witnesses and brought an action for judicial review of the judge’s decision that the Section 39 order expired when they turned 18. They were supported by the charity Justice for Kids Law and were opposed by the BBC with the support of other media organisations.

In his judgment Sir Brian Leveson said: "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 judgment, 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.

"My conclusion is straightforward. An order made by any court under section 39 of the Children & Young Persons Act 1933 cannot extend to reports of the proceedings after the subject of the order has reached the age of majority at 18. The Recorder of London was correct so to rule and did not make an error of law. Accordingly, this claim for judicial review fails."

Full judgment available here.

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