December 17, 2004
District Judge overturns reporting restriction
Media able to identify police officer
A District Judge sitting at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court this week overturned an order made under s.4(2) Contempt of Court Act 1981 forbidding the media from reporting criminal proceedings against a PC Hibbert of the West Midlands Police.
PC Hibbert knocked down a 12 year old girl while driving to the scene of a robbery causing her serious injuries. His solicitor indicated that he would be pleading guilty to the offence of driving without due care and attention. It was at that point, on PC Hibbert’s application, that the Court decided to impose the section 4(2) order, postponing newspaper reports of the proceedings ‘until further order’. Prior to the imposition of the reporting restriction the case had been reported locally.
The BBC and the Birmingham Evening Mail applied to discharge the order. PC Hibbert sought to continue it. In support of his application for a reporting restriction, PC Hibbert presented evidence from a senior officer in the West Midlands Police to the effect that (a) his life would be put at risk if details of the case against him were reported, because he was due to be a prosecution witness in a forthcoming murder trial and (b) this, in turn, would compromise the administration of justice in that murder trial. PC Hibbert invoked his ‘right to life’ under Article 2, ECHR.
These arguments were rejected by the District Judge, who discharged the order. The judge found that while PC Hibbert might subjectively have a fear for his life, that was not enough. Applying the test in R v Lord Saville of Newdigate ex p A & Others  1 WLR 1855, PC Hibbert had not established an objective basis for his supposed fear and so, reporting his conviction would pose no real risk to the fairness of the pending murder trial.
5RB‘s William Bennett acted on behalf of the BBC and the Birmingham Evening Mail, instructed by the BBC Litigation Department.