PA beats attempted Rights Act gag on 'spanking' case

The first reported bid to use the new Human Rights Act to gag court case coverage has been successfully challenged by the Press Association.

Reporter Melvyn Howe spotted the Article 8 ban on the daily case list at London’s Snaresbrook Crown Court, while checking another case.

The order appeared to prohibit any reporting of the trial of a college

lecturer accused of spanking

students. Howe was concerned that a piece of legislation designed to safeguard the rights to a private and family life had been misused to shield a defendant.

"Although it later emerged it was intended to lift the order at the end of the trial, I suspected here was yet another attempt to sideline the

principle of open justice," he said.

He learned that the ban had been imposed last October against the background of the News of the World’s name and shame anti-paedophile campaign.

It was put in place by the resident judge following defence claims that the defendant and his family might be targeted as a result of publicity.

Although the trial was then delayed for the best part of six months, the ban remained.

Howe told counsel for both sides that he wished to challenge the order.

After being granted right of audience, he took trial judge Nicholas Coleman through a series of legal authorities enshrining the principle of open justice.

The PA journalist said apart from the need to balance Article 8 with Article 10’s protection for "freedom of expression", the HRA was not only the wrong legislation to use to restrict reporting, but did not take precedence over UK law.

He said the order could "set a very unfortunate precedent and might well result in similar bans every time a defence barrister felt moved to

argue the safety of a defendant and

his family might be put at risk by publicity".

Howe said it was important that the right of journalists to report cases on a daily basis was paramount.

"As the press we are the eyes and ears of the wider community, and a full and accurate report can only

really be ensured by contemporaneous coverage."

Overturning the order, the judge praised Howe’s "careful argument" and said it was "tried law all proceedings conducted in open court should be reported".

Although the new Act has been referred to in legal arguments before, the Press Association believes that

this was the first case in which an order was made under Human Rights legislation.

by Jon Slattery

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