Tag Archives: Anonymity

Newspaper Society welcomes call for scrapping of media access to family court plans

The Newspaper Society today (21 July) issued a statement to say it welcomed the conclusions of a justice committee report that called for government to scrap the provisions in the Children, Schools and Families Act 2010, which would allow media access to family courts.

The committee report was actually published last week, but in an article today, the society claims the provisions, if brought into force as they stand, “would have resulted in a renewed regime of secrecy – instead of opening up the family courts, as originally intended”.

The NS had said this “will not only fail to deliver the desired public accountability but will represent a major reduction in what can now be lawfully published and will actually further reduce public debate and discussion of the family justice system”.

However, the society added that it is “disappointed” at what it claims is an impression given by the report that “the desire for greater openness and accountability in the family justice system, and that of preserving privacy for the families involved, particularly children, are positions which are necessarily polarised”.

Sue Oake, senior legal adviser at the Newspaper Society, said: “The media has repeatedly stressed that it entirely accepts the need to ensure anonymity for the children and families concerned and we are disappointed that once again this does not appear to have been sufficiently acknowledged.”

Jon Venables’ new conviction reignites anonymity debate

The anonymity debate surrounding Jon Venables, who was jailed in 1993 for the murder two-year-old James Bulger, was reignited today after news that Venables has been sent back to prison for two years for downloading and distributing indecent images of children.

Venables served just under eight years behind bars for the murder of James Bulger with friend and accomplice Robert Thompson. Upon their release in 2001, both men were granted new identities under the Mary Bell order.

Venables, however, was arrested again in March this year, appearing in court today via video-link.

He is reported to have pleaded guilty to three offences under the 1978 Protection of Children Act, for downloading 57 indecent pictures of children, distributing three images between February 2009 and February 2010 and 42 images in February 2008.

The conviction has re-ignited the debate over Venables’ continued anonymity, and he appeared in court today under his original name.

Protection of his new identity was renewed following his arrest, over fears he would be at risk of physical harm if the public knew his identity, although a judge lifted reporting restrictions in June relating to the new charges brought against him.

His lawyers Irwin Mitchell Solicitors sent a copy of the gagging order to all publications across the country in June, reminding them of the legal restrictions preventing them from reporting the details of Venables’ new identity.

Media law consultant David Banks told Journalism.co.uk that while it will probably be widely debated, his anonymity is likely to remain in place, both now and upon his release.

“I suspect the anonymity will continue because firstly, he’s going to be in prison until the authorities are satisfied he is no longer a threat, and then, when they decide he poses no threat, the court will take some convincing that, if he is no longer a threat, he should be identified and therefore put at risk of death or serious injury at the hands of vigilantes.

“It’s a balance – his right to life versus the public’s right to protection. The courts, thus far, have taken the view that the public is protected by means other than letting everyone know who he is and where he lives. This case might change that view, but I suspect it will not.”

Earlier this year, following Venables’ arrest, Lady Butler-Sloss gave her support to Jack Straw’s decision to keep his offence and identity a secret.

“This young man may or may not be tried. He may or may not have committed offences,” she told peers. “There is, of course, at least the possibility that he has committed no offence.  And consequently, he may therefore be allowed again to be out (of jail) on licence.”

Martin Cloake: Further points about anonymity in the wake of NightJack

Pushing the NightJack discussion futher, journalist and writer Martin Cloake raises some tricky questions for online observers – or anyone who enjoys a good ethical debate. In a previous post, Cloake said that he broadly agreed with a comment on FleetStreetBlues –  ‘There is no automatic right of privacy in the street – and neither should there be on the information superhighway.’ Now he elaborates on this, and other points raised by the case: his unease with the Times’s main justification, the problems of the old vs new ‘vendetta’ theory, contradictions in the anonymity debate, why whistleblowers and journalistic sources are another matter entirely, and new boundary issues for the public/private spheres.

Read in full at this link.