Do you understand the court reporting laws?

In today’s blog post I will go through 4 questions and answer them in order to show my understanding regarding press and public court access and the contempt of the court. This will also give you as a reader an insight and idea of what the law in regard with this looks like and how it is applied in different scenarios;

  1. Do the restrictions under the Magistrates’ Courts Act apply to the story below? Re-write the story, and then explain how the Act applies. In particular, pay attention to the offence charged and whether persons can be named.

Denton magistrates heard that a man loitering within the grounds of a hospital’s staff accommodation at 2am last Sunday had photographed female nurses undressing in ground floor rooms. Barry Bright, 20, a shop assistant, of Elm Avenue, Lower Denton, pleaded not guilty to voyeurism. The hearing was adjourned for the trial to take place before magistrates in a week’s time at the request of the defence, who said Bright’s father had been taken ill that morning.

Mr Michael Mackay, prosecuting, said Brenda Shafi, aged 19, was in her room at Nightingale House, Denton, when she looked out of the window and saw a man with a camera. She alerted her friend, Sharon Jones, in the next room, and they went outside and confronted Bright, who they had seen earlier at a disco.

The Children and Young Person’s Act 1933, says that a youth receives legal anonymity once they have appeared in court. The Press Complaints Commission Code discourages naming youths under 16 involved in crimes. Barry Bright is excluded from this rule as he is 20 years old, thus no youth element and we can therefore name him.

However, S.67 of The Sexual Offences Act 2003 says that under voyeurism, the victims cannot be named. Therefore should Brenda Shafi’s name be taken out of the context.

On a further note; Journalists should always be careful when giving to much information about the victim. This is called “the jigsaw identification” and simply means that the victim might be identified by giving to many specific details. For this reason I suggest that the name of the building the suspect lived in should be taken out, so should her friends name as this will make it easy to find out who Sharon’s next door neighbour is. Other details such as “female nurses undressing in ground floor rooms” can also be altered slightly. Please see below for more information.

A better way of writing the scenario; Denton magistrates heard that a man loitering within the grounds of a hospital’s staff accommodation at 2am last Sunday had photographed female nurses undressing. Barry Bright, 20, a shop assistant, of Elm Avenue, Lower Denton, pleaded not guilty to voyeurism. The hearing was adjourned for the trial to take place before magistrates in a week’s time at the request of the defence, who said Bright’s father had been taken ill that morning. Mr Michael Mackay, prosecuting, said the victim, aged 19, was in her room when she looked out of the window and saw a man with a camera. She alerted her friend, in the next room, and they went outside and confronted Bright, who they had seen earlier.

  1. A defendant at a youth court denies taking away a car without the owner’s consent, and driving at 50 miles per hour in a 40 miles per hour zone. The defendant was 17 at the time of the offences but had his 18th birthday 3 weeks before the youth court hearing. The chairman of the magistrates says “we wish to remind the press that the defendant cannot be identified.” Is this correct? Show how you reached the answer.

Children and Young Persons Act 1933 protects identification of juveniles appearing before youth courts. Section 49 says that no report may be published which reveals the name, address or school of any child or young person concerned in the proceedings, or which includes any particulars likely to lead to the identification of any child or young person. It is however unclear by the Act whether their identities should remain a secret when they had turned 18 if their case were still in progress.

Mr Justice Sullivan said in Todd v Director of Public Prosecutions 2003, that the purpose of section 44 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 was “not to protect the interests of young persons’ once they have ceased to be such and have become adults…Once a person become an adult there is no reason to retain that restriction”. This case was similarly about a suspect, Todd, who was aged 17 when he first appeared court, but turned 18 before the case was concluded. The Sunderland Echo and Shields Gazette argued that “Todd should be named in light of the seriousness of the charge (which he had admitted) and his previous record, and the fact that, as he had turned 18 when he then appeared in court, he was no longer a “young person” within the meaning of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933”. The magistrates agreed.

Therefore, it the light of the case example, I believe that the chairman of the magistrates was wrong. The defendant can indeed be identified as he is 18 at the time of the trial. The media is not prohibited from naming him as the rule only applies to juveniles.

  1. Fourteen years old twins Sally and Susie will be appearing at Denton magistrates’ court, where the local council will apply for anti-social behaviour orders against them, under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998, preventing them from making noise, late at night, on Lower Denton housing estate. No criminal charges are involved at this stage.

What type of magistrate will hear the application? An adult magistrate court deciding on civil matters.

Can the girls be named in newspaper reports? It depends on the direction of the court; s. 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.

If they infringe the anti social behaviour order, which court will normally hear the case? It would then be a criminal matter in a juvenile court.

Will any reporting restrictions apply at that hearing? Again, it is all a matter of the direction of the court. There is simply no automatic anonymity.

  1. Given the details below, rewrite the story so that it conforms to contempt law and then briefly explain the law that you have applied.

Minnie Maus, 12, of the village of Mouseton, in Calisota, has been banned from driving by Calisota Youth Court. The prosecutor, Donald Canard, told the court that Minnie had drunk several glasses of wine and two cans of lager whilst at a party to celebrate the eighteenth birthday of her cousin, Daisy Pato, in their home in Duckburg. Clarabelle Vache, defending, said that Minnie had been drinking since she was eleven years old, and often enjoyed a drink while at home with her six older brothers. Minnie has been able to drive her father’s jeep around their farmland since she was ten years old, and she decided to take the jeep without her father’s permission and drive it back to her home, some fifty miles away. Her father called the police and Minnie was arrested five miles away from the Pato’s home. Minnie pleaded guilty to taking a vehicle without consent, driving without a licence and insurance, and driving with excess alcohol.

A good way of writing above scenario is; “A 12 year old girl has been banned from driving by the court after driving 5 miles when drunk on several glasses of wine and two cans of lager. The girl had been at a family celebration when she decided to take her fathers car and drive back home. She pleaded guilty.”

We would need to be very cautious with this kind of reporting as we need to carefully apply s.49 of the Children and Young Persons Act. In order not to recognize Minnie we would need to erase all information that may lead to jigsaw identification, such as her name, the amount of brother, the name of the village or the court.

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