Youth handed legal aid to fight battle for anonymity

By Sarah Lagan

A convicted youth has been granted legal aid to challenge a ruling
by magistrates that he can be named, in an unprecedented move with wide
implications for the media.

The Eastern Daily Press is leading the fight to name the teenager,
who has been convicted and jailed for dangerous driving after a crash
that led to the death of an unborn baby.

Magistrates at King’s
Lynn Youth Court described the 17-year-old boy as a “lethal weapon”
after he was involved in a high-speed police car chase. They overturned
a section 49 order and ruled that his identity should be in the public
domain. But the youth’s lawyer has been grated legal aid to challenge
the decision.

EDP assistant editor Paul Durrant said: “This is
the first time in my experience I’ve come across someone being granted
legal aid to protect their identity once the magistrates have decided
we should name him.

“We feel this is a tardy attempt to manipulate the system on a matter where the public right to know is absolutely clear cut.

“I
do feel it could have far-reaching implications for the media as a
whole to report accurately and fairly what’s going on in court, if they
succeed.”

A spokesman for the Legal Services Commission, which
granted the legal aid request, told the EDP that applications were
judged on financial circumstances and their legal merit rather than
public opinion.

He said he could not comment on whether this constituted correct use of public funds or how much financial aid was available.

If
the hearing goes ahead, the EDP will have to decide whether to submit
its own written representation or be legally represented, possibly with
the backing of other newspapers and broadcasters.

The teenager,
who admitted dangerous driving, driving while disqualified and without
insurance and failing to stop for police and after an accident, has
been jailed for 16 months and banned from driving for three years. He
sped away from a police car at 100mph on the wrong side of a dual
carriageway towards a car carrying a 17-year-old boy and his pregnant
girlfriend which swerved out of the way but crashed intoa police
vehicle. The girl later lost her baby.

The teenager’s lawyer, Andrew Lyon, said the boy was “utterly remorseful” and had suffered a brain haemorrhage.

Arguing
that his name should not be made public, Lyon told magistrates: “This
is something that would affect the rest of his life and have extreme
consequences with finding suitable training and work.”

Having won
legal aid, lawyers face two further stages in their bid for an appeal.
They need to send an application to the Queen’s Bench Division of the
High Court in London for leave to apply for a judicial review.

A
High Court judge will then decide whether leave should be granted, and
if so it will consider the subsequent judicial review application and
whether there are sufficient grounds to appeal. If granted, the
judicial review will be heard at the High Court and the EDP and other
media will be able to make representations.

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