Judge slaps on gag order after reporter's query

Acourt reporter got more than he bargained for when he pointed out that a judge had failed to impose an order protecting the identity of a juvenile witness.

Freelance Tony Lithgow was covering an affray trial when he noticed that no Section 39 order had been passed to protect the identity of a 16year-old witness.

Mr Recorder William Feathery, at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court, thanked Lithgow for bringing the oversight to his attention – and then imposed a Section 39 order which went far beyond protecting the teenager’s identity.

It also barred the press from naming two adult witnesses who were related to the 16-year-old and from naming the street where the crime was said to have happened.

Lithgow passed a letter to the judge and was allowed to address the bench to protest the order. He said the two adult witnesses were not victims of a sexual offence but “merely witnesses of alleged crimes of violence against other persons”.

He said: “It is my firm belief that Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act was never intended to be used in such a wide-ranging fashion”.

The judge decided to uphold the order, leaving Lithgow with no alternative but to consider an appeal to the High Court. Lithgow said that lack of funds made this option unlikely.

He said: “The irony is all this trouble resulted from my desire to act responsibly. I now wish I’d kept my mouth shut. I’m sure the lesson won’t be lost on other members of my profession in the future”

By Dominic Ponsford

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