This judgement concerned a reporting restriction order (RRO) in particularly harrowing murder case. The facts themselves are very bleak: a father of three young children murdered their mother. The father had pleaded guilty at trial and all three children were showing signs of trauma including PTSD, and mental distress.
The restriction of the publication of the children’s names and photographs had already been agreed by all parties. The contested issue was that the local authority sought an RRO to prevent publication of the information that:
- a) the children were present at the time of their mother’s killing,
- b) the two youngest children may have witnessed the killing and;
- c) that all three were left alone with their mother’s body for some time.
Two local journalists, including one from BBC Three Counties Radio, opposed these additional measures on the grounds of public interest and, if the criminal case had gone to trial, the information would have been reportable.
While they were aware of the children’s young ages, they argued that at their age, the children were unlikely to feel the direct impact of the reporting, and when they became older, then they should have, by that point received support to assist with processing their experiences.
Further, the journalists argued that local people were already aware of what had happened, including the details which the RRO covered, and so it would not make any difference anyway. The local authority however countered this by saying that although it was well known locals that a murder had taken place, the involvement of the children was not.
The judge considered the children’s Article 8 (right to a family life) rights ‘highly significant’, but these must be balanced against Article 10 (freedom of expression). The judge held that the most likely impact on the children would not come from the media reporting, but rather their own peer group and other adults. The local authority and carers would already be aware of this.
In conclusion therefore, the additional reporting restrictions sought were disproportionate and not granted. Total ‘insulation’ of the children from the media was not possible and the interest of the press in properly reporting sentencing and scrutinising the actions of public authorities were in this case more important.
This case shows that judges are well aware of the reality of how information spreads. Media reporting was not the only way in which the children in question could find out about the circumstances of their mother’s death and its aftermath, and the freedom of the press should therefore not be curtailed to support a measure which would not even achieve the desired outcome.
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