Oxford Mail outsmarts criminal defence team in dispute over section 39 no-names order

The Oxford Mail has criticised a solicitors' firm for its "dogmatic and downright wrong" attempt to overturn a longstanding legal ruling about naming young people in court.

Three weeks ago the Newsquest-owned daily published the names of two 16-year-olds accused of causing grievous bodily harm with intent after their first appearance at Oxford Crown Court.

Because no section 39 order was made the paper decided to publish the names.

One of the youths' solicitors, Macnab Clarke from Abingdon, then wrote to the court saying the Oxford Mail had contravened a section 39 from the magistrates court. The paper pointed out that under the R v Lee ruling from the Court of Appeal in 1993, and the 2009 Judicial Studies Board Reporting Restrictions, section 39s from lower courts do not automatically carry over.

Last week Judge Pringle called the case back into court. According to the Mail,  despite both His Honour and the Crown Prosecution Service immediately agreeing there was no order to breach, barrister Abigail Bright continued to claim the newspaper had broken the law.

Head of Content Jason Collie, who represented the Mail, said: "The argument put forward by Miss Bright and Macnab Clarke was flawed and it is disappointing public money had to be wasted defending what was clearly a nonsense.

"We had pointed Macnab Clarke to R v Lee and the JSB guidelines but Miss Bright continued to claim the order from the lower magistrates court bound the higher court.

"It is deeply frustrating and time-consuming to have to continue to fight an argument from a lawyers' firm and a barrister who it would appear thought they were more of an authority than a Court of Appeal ruling and guidelines backed by the Lord Chief Justice."

He added: "Solicitors and barristers thinking they can just railroad ‘lowly’ hacks should be fought at every turn, especially if they feel emboldened by the Leveson effect.”

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