Youth courts: defendants who turn 18

Suppose you have been following a case in a youth court and, shortly before the final hearing, the defendant turns 18.

Because of Section 49 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, you have been unable, in reports of earlier hearings, to name the defendant or say where he lives, which school he attends, or include any particulars likely to lead to his identification.

But what is the position once he has turned 18?

It is not possible to ask the court to dispense with the restrictions, because they apply automatically, without the need for an order.

This is in contrast to Section 39 of the same act (which applies where children and young persons are involved in proceedings in adult courts), where the court has to make a specific order, which can be challenged by the press.

But in the case of Section 49, the restrictions either apply or they don’t, so the decision is yours: either you play it safe or you choose to identify him – with the prospect of a £5,000 fine for any proprietor, publisher or editor who gets it wrong.

The most natural interpretation of the wording of the section is that the prohibition only applies where the defendant is under the age of 18: once they have attained that age, it can no longer be said that they are a "child or young person concerned in the proceedings".

Nevertheless, the point does not seem to have been decided by a higher court and Parliament has opted to amend the section by virtue of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (although the relevant provisions have not yet been brought into force).

If and when the amendment becomes effective, Section 49 will expressly state that the restrictions will apply "while [the defendant] is under the age of 18".

This suggests that the position with the existing section is ambiguous.

Until the relevant parts of the 1999 act come into force, it may take a bold editor who is willing to risk a possible criminal prosecution to put the matter to rest.

 

 

 

Philip Wheeler is a solicitor in the media department of Farrer & Co

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