Johnston titles win a landmark ruling

Legal history: Smith felt his newspapers needed to pursue this case

Two newspapers have won a landmark ruling which clears up a legal grey area over whether the press can name juvenile court defendants once they have reached their 18th birthday.

A High Court judgment now makes clear that orders preventing the identification of young defendants become irrelevant once someone has reached the age of 18.

The Johnston Press-owned Sunderland Echo and Shields Gazette pursued the case after a teenage criminal challenged journalists’ right to name him. The company had to pay its own costs.

David Lee Todd, then 17, attacked a court usher at South Tyneside Youth Court in March 2002. He pushed Alan Bruce to the floor, causing him to break several bones in his foot. Todd was convicted in April 2003, by which time he had become 18, and was sentenced to a four-month detention and training order.

The editors of the Echo and the Gazette sent a joint letter to the court arguing that the seriousness of the charge meant the public should know who he is. In any case, they argued, the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act was only intended to protect under 18s from being named in the press.

The magistrates agreed and Todd was named in both papers. But Todd then appealed and the ban on naming him was reintroduced pending the outcome of a hearing this week at the High Court in London.

Finding in favour of the paper, Mr Justice Sullivan said Section 49 of the act “is not to protect the interests of young persons once they have ceased to be such and become adults”. And Lord Justice Brook said: “The news media is often described as the eyes and ears of the public.”

Johnston Press solicitor Nicholas Alway said: “The judgment clarifies an aspect of the law about which there had previously been uncertainty and recognises the importance of naming defendants as part of fair court reporting.” He added: “A significant precedent has been set.”

Editorial director of Northeast Press, Andrew Smith, said: “We felt this was one we needed to pursue. Johnston Press executive officers felt the same.

“I hope in future if courts are minded to preserve the anonymity of 18-year-olds the media will be able to refer them to Todd versus Sunderland Echo and Shields Gazette.”

Section 49 of the 1933 Children and Young Persons Act bans publication of any details which could identify an under-18 appearing in Youth Court. These restrictions apply automatically.

For children appearing in adult courts, magistrates and judges normally impose an order under Section 39 of the 1933 act banning their identification.

By Dominic Ponsford

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