Supreme Court's decision on photos of boy involved in sectarian riots is good news for editors

It's unusual for a court to rule in favour of using the photograph of a teenager. So the Supreme Court's recent decision in the case involving the Derry Journal is welcome.
 
The paper published CCTV images of serious sectarian rioting in Derry in 2010. They included unpixelated shots of a 14-year-old boy.
 
The images were supplied by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) as part of their Operation Exposure campaign, which aimed to discourage rioting by 'naming and shaming' participants.
 
The teenager's parents complained that the images breached the boy's rights under the European Convention on Human Rights. They said they risked stigmatising him, and impairing his rehabilitation and reputation.
 
But the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that publication of the images was necessary for the administration of justice.
 
The ruling sets a precedent for similar cases, and means the media will be able to publish images of under-16s involved in criminal activity in certain circumstances.
 
According to the judgment, the PSNI was entitled to publish the images under the Data Protection Act 1998 as the "publication was for the purposes of the prevention and detection of crime and the apprehension and prosecution of offenders".
 
The court accepted that the PSNI published the images as a last resort, and said that pubishing them "struck a fair balance between the interests of the appellant and the community".
 
One judge, Lord Clarke, said the boy did not have a reasonable expectation of privacy.
 
The ruling added: "The appellant stood to benefit from being diverted from criminal activity, as did his community from the prevention of crime and apprehension of offenders."

Photos of under-16s involved in crime can only be published in exceptional circumstances under the Editors' Code. The Supreme Court's ruling gives a clear indication as to what "exceptional" means in some cases.

The ruling also shows that the Supreme Court tends to be out of step with the European Court of Human Rights in cases like this. It's unlikely the ECHR would have reached the same decision.
 
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