Maxine Carr

If
newspapers and internet message boards are any test of public feeling,
opinion has (predictably)n been luridly divided by Mr Justice Eady’s
grant of an order continuing indefinitely the injunction to protect
Maxine Carr’s new identity and restrict information about her
whereabouts and employment.

At the extreme end of the scale are
comments like this snarling contribution to a news website discussion
page: “Publish her address in a national newspaper and let events take
their course”.

Criticism of the order has also been strong in the
tabloids. There was much complaint about the ongoing cost to the public
purse from policing the order (although some of the figures quoted seem
grossly overblown). The Express called the ruling “an abominable
crime”, the Mirror called it “a sorry day for the freedom of the public
to receive information”, and The Sun queried whether the supposed
“hundred grand” her court proceedings have cost in legal aid was well
spent.

Yet no newspaper opposed Carr’s application to Mr Justice Eady.

The
judge said that the lack of a challenge by the media showed that they
did not believe the injunction meant a significant erosion of their
Article 10 rights of freedom of expression. But was this the reason the
press stayed away?

More likely it was because they realised that
the chances of resisting the application were too small to make trying
worthwhile – not surprising when you look at the reasons for the
judge’s decision.

The grounds were:

(1) that there was a real
and significant risk of her injury or death and that failure to protect
her from that risk would amount to a breach of the European Convention
on Human Rights Article 2 (protection of right to life). The evidence
adduced in support was persuasive: a persistent threat from a specific
source, actual incidents of harassment and expressions of intention by
the public to attack or kill Carr, and (amazingly) actual attacks on
innocent members of the public by individuals who thought their victims
looked like Carr.

(2) that there was a real
risk to her already fragile psychological health and failure to protect
her against that risk would amount to a breach of her rights under
Article 8 of the Convention. This was supported by medical evidence.

The
judge found that this evidence did indicate a risk of serious physical
and psychological harm, that the existing injunction had been effective
in reducing that risk and aiding Carr’s protection, treatment and
rehabilitation and that if the injunction was not continued the task of
the police and the probation service would be more difficult or
impossible.

Mr Justice Eady accepted that any order which affects
Convention rights to freedom of expression must be proportionate and
necessary.

He took the view that public debate over matters of
legitimate interest to do with the case (e.g. the cost to the public
purse) would still be possible if the order was continued, as they did
not require the revelation of Carr’s details. In all the circumstances,
the only effective means available to the court to protect her life and
limb and psychological health was by making the order sought, and the
limitation on the media’s exercise of their Article 10 rights was
justified by the necessity of protecting Carr in those regards. In any
event, it was open to the media to apply to have the injunction lifted
at any time.

It is an unprecedented order for an adult who has
not committed a serious crime – this has led some lawyers to make “thin
end of the wedge” warnings about erosions of freedom of expression.

But
how could the result have been any different when certain members of
the community are prepared to maim or even kill individuals like Carr
who are associated with certain kinds of crime? And in so far as that
brutal and moronic reaction is fuelled by inflammatory journalism, the
media should maybe look to certain elements within their own ranks
before complaining too loudly about erosions of freedom.

Nick Armstrong is a Partner in the Media Group of City Solicitors Charles Russell

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