Reference:  EWHC 1240 (Admin); The Times 31 May 2005
Court: Administrative Court
Judge: Rose LJ & Crane J
Date of judgment: 19 May 2005
Summary: Criminal law - Reporting restrictions - Human rights - Information likely to lead to identification of victim of sexual offence - Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992 - Freedom of expression - Article 10 - Whether necessary in a democratic society - Whether conduct proscribed by law
Instructing Solicitors: H2O Law for the Applicant; Crown Prosecution Service for the Respondent.
A 12-year old girl, ‘S’, went missing from her home and travelled to Germany with a man, ‘X’. A warrant was issued for her abduction. She soon returned to the UK and X was arrested. When S was interviewed, a number of sexual offences came to light, and X was arrested for inciting a child under the age of 16 years to commit an act of gross indecency. Unlike the abduction charge, this was not publicised. The January 2004 issue of Marie Claire included a review of the news stories of 2003. This contained S’s name and a close up photograph of her face. It stated that X had previously been accused of sexual misconduct, but made no mention of the sexual charge against him in relation to S. The Appellant, the editor of Marie Claire, was charged with publishing material likely to lead members of the public to identify S as the victim of an alleged sexual offence, contrary to ss 1 and 5 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992.
(1) Whether the statutory provisions, which were accepted to be infringements on the right to freedom of expression, were necessary in a democratic society;
(2) Whether the provisions were sufficiently clear so that the infringement of the right to freedom of expression was one ‘proscribed by law’.
Dismissing the appeal:
(1) Applying Brown v UK (2002) application no 44223/98, which considered the similar protection of rape victims, the statutory provisions were necessary and proportionate restrictions on freedom of expression.
(2) There was nothing so imprecise about the phrase “likely to lead” so as to preclude a proper prescription of the conduct to which the Appellant pleaded guilty.
This decision demonstrates the importance to journalists of knowledge of all of the charges facing a defendant where there is any possibility of sexual offences being alleged. Where there is a sexual allegation, it seems that the victim may not be identified even if only non-sexual allegations are referred to. While it is easy to feel sympathy for the Appellant in this case, who genuinely did not know of the sexual charges, the police could easily have been consulted, as Rose LJ noted. James Price QC of 5RB appeared for Ms O’Riordan at first instance.