In B,R and G (a Child), the High Court refused an application for reporting restrictions in a case where two parents had murdered their child. The reason for this was lack of evidence that the reporting of the trial would have a sufficiently immediate impact on the surviving child to justify their Article 8 rights taking precedence over the Article 10 rights of others.
The application was made by the local authority and supported by other parties to the care proceedings. It was opposed by several media organisations including the BBC, Times Newspapers Limited, ITN, and Associated Newspapers Ltd.
As a result of two parents being charged for the murder of their child, the twin sibling of G, an order pursuant to section 45, Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 was made by the judge in the Magistrates’ Court. The effect of this order was to prohibit proceedings being reported in a way that would result in G being identified. However, following objections, the judge later decided that they had no jurisdiction to make this order in respect of G, so they thought the matter would be best considered by the family court.
The basis upon which the application was made by the local authority was as follows:
- It would be contrary to G’s interests to be identified in the community as a child whose parents are subject to murder charges.
- There is a long term risk of identification given G’s distinctive name.
- The risks associated with publicity may deter prospective adopters.
- Life story work may be compromised if they are able to read press coverage about their sibling’s death in an uncontrolled manner.
- G is one of very few twins in their area who has experienced the death of a sibling, enhancing the risk of identification.
Submissions on behalf of the press were as follows:
- The facts of the case, although tragic, were not exceptional and an order of this kind, in these circumstances is contrary to established authority.
- Given G’s young age, the impact is likely to be indirect.
- Prohibiting the names of the defendants and deceased being named would have repercussions on the significant number of other cases where a parent or parents were charged with a serious crime within the family.
- It benefits all children that the public are aware that the deaths of children are taken extremely seriously, and that such will be fully investigated, and any perpetrators brought to justice.
The judge identified the law to be applied by the courts when considering applications of this kind as set out in the case of Re S (A Child)  1 AC 593. Lord Steyn acknowledged that an inability to reveal the identity of a criminal defendant would, from the media’s view, mean that the trial was ‘disembodied’, they would be less likely to give prominence to reporting it, and that informed debate about criminal justice would suffer.
The judge acknowledged that many sad cases such as this came before the criminal and family courts every year. Notwithstanding, they did not find that the local authority had provided any specific evidence to demonstrate that it would be more difficult to find prospective adoptive parents for G, amongst others. In balancing the competing rights under Articles 8 and 10 of the ECHR, they refused the application on the basis that it would have a profound effect upon open justice in a significant trial and create a precedent for others like it.
However, an order prohibiting the publication of G’s existence as a member of the family was continued.
Clashes between Articles 8 and 10 of the ECHR frequently arise when it comes to cases of this nature. Rigorous scrutiny must be applied when deciding whether interference with a child’s rights under Article 8 is proportionate and necessary. However, as ‘open justice’ is widely accepted to be the starting point in criminal trials, it seemingly will require an extreme set of circumstances in a case involving a child’s death at the hands of their parent/parents where blanket reporting restrictions are granted. Practitioners should take note of this judgment and give very cautious advice about the limited prospects of an anonymity order designed to protect associated children in criminal proceedings involving adult Defendants.
Please see YJLC’s guide on reporting restrictions for children in criminal cases here.
Red Lion Chambers