By Andy Walsh
In a recent judgment, the Court of Appeal has constrained the application of anonymity in relation to children accused of criminal offences. Under Section 93 of the Children Act (2001) (the “Act”), no report that reveals the name, address, or school of any child can be published.
Prior to the recent judgment a child who committed a criminal offence enjoyed anonymity during a subsequent trial or appeal. The recent case arose from an unsuccessful appeal concerning the 2020 murder of student Blair Cameron.
The convicted person was under the age of eighteen at the offence date but had “aged-out” by the time the appeal was heard. A question arose as to whether the provisions of Section 93 continued in these circumstances.
Ms. Justice Kennedy of the Court of Appeal held that it was “clear and unambiguous” that this protection extended only to children who are defined as persons under the age of eighteen in the Act. Ms. Justice Kennedy found that in circumstances where the legislation does not expressly extend the protection to persons who were minors at the time of the alleged offence – but subsequently reach the age of majority before the conclusion of the proceedings or any appeal – it would amount to an infringement on the separation of powers for the judiciary to interpret such a protection contrary to the “plain meaning of the language used”.
The corollary of this finding is that persons will lose the protection of anonymity once they “age-out” during proceedings or during any appeal. This consideration may deter potential appellants in the future should their trial conclude before they reach eighteen with any appeal occurring thereafter bringing with it a jettisoning of their anonymity.
It is, of course, open to the legislature to amend the legislation to clarify the position and extend the protection to persons who were minors at the date of the offence.
Notwithstanding the recent ruling it is also open to a presiding judge to make a specific order preserving the anonymity of child before the Court as was the case with “Boy A” and “Boy B” who were convicted of the murder of Ana Kriégel while minors and will “age-out” prior to their sentencing reviews. Mr. Justice Birmingham stayed the application of the judgement until 16 February 2024 to allow any appeal to the Supreme Court.