Under Section 44 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999, after a criminal investigation has begun, anyone publishing information leading to the identity of someone who is under 18 and who is a victim or witness, could be guilty of an offence. Thanks to lobbying by the press, this provision is not yet in force, writes David Attfield.
But the Editors’ Code of Practice has been amended, adding the following wording to clause 10 which deals with crime reporting: "(ii) Particular regard should be paid to the potentially vulnerable position of children who are witnesses to, or victims of, crime. This should not be interpreted as restricting the right to report judicial proceedings."
In its first ruling on this provision in clause 10, the Press Complaints Commission has made it clear that great care must be exercised when reporting on crimes to ensure that proper regard is paid to the position of children. This may well mean that information leading to the identity of a child should not be published, even though the full force of the legislation does not apply.
The ruling concerned an interview with a 12 year old girl published in the Eastbourne edition of The Argus, Brighton. The girl had witnessed an attempt to kidnap her friend. The man responsible had then warned her that, if he was caught, he would "come and get them". The Argus had published the girl’s name and part of her address. The girl’s father complained to the commission that this had exposed her to danger.
In this case, The Argus had obtained the consent of the girl’s mother to the interview. The information complained of had also seemingly been freely provided by the mother, although she claimed not to have appreciated that this information may be published. The commission held that insufficient regard had been paid to the potentially vulnerable position of the girl and upheld the complaint. So, while for the moment the statutory prohibition on identifying child victims and witnesses may not apply, bear in mind the revised wording of clause 10 of the Code of Practice. The obligation it imposes on you may in practice be very similar. David Attfield is a solicitor in the media group of Lovells