A judge banned the media from identifying a dead child in a criminal case – then prevented a newspaper from publishing its story for nearly a week when its lawyers pointed out that he had no right to make the reporting restriction order.
Judge David Paget imposed the order, under section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, in a case at the Old Bailey in which 18-year-old Manisha Ruttan admitted the manslaughter of her infant son, who she left on a rooftop in Streatham, south London, the day after his birth.
Neighbours spotted the infant, who was wrapped in a plastic bag, and he was taken to hospital but died later that day.
A journalist from the Central News news agency tried to challenge the order when it was first made on 15 January by Judge Paget, pointing out that a court has no power to use section 39 to prohibit the identification of a dead child.
But the judge said that he would hear representations when Ruttan appeared for her sentencing hearing in March. The South London Press, owned by Tindle Newspapers, then instructed solicitor Nigel Hanson of law firm Foot Anstey to write to the judge and ask him to lift the order.
The letter was faxed to the court on 16 January – and two days later, the judge’s clerk contacted the law firm to say that while the judge was inclined to lift the order, he first wanted to contact the defence and prosecution to see if they wanted to make any representations, and had given them until 21 January to do so.
It was not until 22 January that Mr Hanson and the newspaper were told that the judge had lifted the order.
South London Press series editor Hannah Walker said: ‘We had the whole story quite early and we had to hold over publication because of the order, which meant we could not identify the mother.
‘It was extremely frustrating, really, because it did not need to happen in the first place – section 39 orders are to protect living children.”