Paper loses bid to name mother in HIV crime

By Roger Pearson

A bid by a Newsquest title to block an injunction banning
identification of a woman who knowingly infected the father of one of
her children with HIV has failed.

In a case in which even the identity of the paper concerned has been
kept secret, the country’s senior family judge, Sir Mark Potter,
president of the High Court’s Family Division, has ruled that a court
ban on identification of the woman should continue.

The case
brought article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which
relates to respect for private and family life, into conflict with
article 10, which relates to rights to freedom of expression.

In
a signpost ruling on situations where identity bans can be imposed by
civil courts on reporting of criminal cases, Sir Mark ruled that the
interests of children were first and foremost. He said continuation of
the injunction was “both necessary and proportionate” to protect the
children involved in this case.

The children, aged three years
and six months, have different fathers and the judge said they lived
with their mother in a small community. The 20- year-old woman admitted
knowingly infecting the father of one of them with HIV and has been
sentenced to two years’ detention in a young offenders’ institution.
The case has been reported without identifying her.

The
injunction banning the naming of the mother in the criminal proceedings
was made during the course of care proceedings in respect of the
children.

The local authority and the children’s guardian feared
that if the mother was identified it could result in the children being
ostracised, and that any placement of them either within their families
or outside could be adversely affected.

However, in challenging
continuation of the injunction, the paper claimed there was
considerable public interest in criminal proceedings that raised
controversial issues over law and policy relating to the charges
involved.

It also argued that because of their ages, the children would be unaware of the nature of the proceedings.

However,
ruling that the identification ban was justified in the children’s
interests, the judge said: “I accept there is likely to be serious
short-term and long-term prejudice to the children if the injunction is
not granted, for the reasons given by the council.

“It may well
be that, even without it, there will be a level of gossip and
harassment. However, in my view, it is sufficiently established that
what may otherwise die down as a nine-day wonder will be elevated into
a widespread and far longer-lasting inroad into the privacy and family
life to which these children are entitled.

“In my view, it is
both necessary and proportionate to protect the children against what I
consider is established as a likelihood of harm, which will be avoided,
or at any rate diminished, if the injunction is granted.”

Against the public interest?

MEDIA URGED TO CHALLENGE DECISION

One legal expert told Press Gazette: “This is a very worrying
development. First, of course, there is surely a very basic public
interest in this woman’s identity being known.

“She has done this once and there must be a case for fearing that
she will do it again. It could certainly be argued that men at any rate
need to know who she is and what she has done in order for them to be
protected from her in the future.

“More importantly, from the
point of view of the media, the question is what is going to be the
nature of the next case in which a similar injunction is going to be
sought to protect children?

“The national media should put their
resources behind a challenge to Sir Mark’s decision to clarify the
situation and to ensure that the imposition of bans of this sort is not
something that starts to escalate out of control in the future.”

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