Five news organisations have succeeded in overturning a reporting restriction in a case where a young man and his 14-year-old brother were on trial for murdering their stepfather.
Associated Newspapers, the BBC, the Press Association, Times Newspapers and Trinity Mirror challenged the order banning the media from identifying the juvenile defendant, arguing that it was an unjustified intrusion into their rights to report the criminal trial, particularly given the amount of publicity the case had already received.
Mr Justice Keehan, in the Family Division of the High Court, overturned the earlier reporting restriction order he had made banning the media from identifying 14-year-old Jerome Ellis, who was on trial at Guildford Crown Court with his 23-year-old brother Joshua for the murder of 54-year-old Neil Tulley.
The brothers were alleged to have killed Tulley in a brutal attack as he slept on the sofa at their Guildford home, leaving him with more than 60 stab wounds and having almost severed his head from his body.
They admitted the killing, but denied murder on the grounds of loss of control and, in Joshua Ellis's case, diminished responsibility due to his mental health.
Mr Justice Keehan said the facts of the case might be unusual and sensational but they were not exceptional enough to justify imposing a reporting restriction order. Neither was there a justification for making a limited order banning the identification of other children linked to the case.
At the start of the trial, in mid-February, the Recorder of Guildford, Judge Christopher Critchlow, lifted an order under section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act which had given Jerome Ellis anonymity, accepting that he had already been named in earlier reports about the killing, and pointing out that the issue was not one of whether he had taken part in the killing, but whether he was guilty of murder of manslaughter.
But the following day Surrey County Council made an urgent application to Mr Justice Keehan in the Family Division of the High Court for a reporting restriction order banning the media from naming Jerome in reports
of the trial.
The judge made an interim order at a hearing on February 14 – it virtually stopped reporting of the trial, as it was impossible to identify Joshua Ellis without effectively identifying his brother.
The judge lifted the order at a hearing the following week. There were, said Mr Justice Keehan, particularly strong and compelling arguments against restricting reporting of the criminal trial – the importance of open justice in relation to serious criminal behaviour, the public's entitlement to know who was responsible for such behaviour, and the significantly reduced impact of a news story without a face and name.
He said that an attempt to have a reporting restriction order imposed to give Jerome Ellis anonymity until the end of the criminal trial was "in all but name, an improper attempt to appeal the decision of the criminal
trial judge on 13 February to lift the s39 order" previously made in the teenager's favour, the judge said.
A reporting restriction order to protect the other children associated with the case was still "a Draconian order which is not to be made routinely", and which "must still pass the high hurdle for granting a RRO and must be shown by the applicant to be necessary".
None of the children had been named, despite the widespread coverage of the case in the media, the judge said.
"The mere fact that some irresponsible media organisations might not take the ethical and principled approach of the five media organisations appearing before me and of other responsible press and broadcasters, does not justify the making of a RRO," he went on.
"A court must not restrict the right of the latter media organisations because of a risk of irresponsible reporting by the former," he added.