Lords uphold freedom to report

Child's Article 8 ECHR rights do not override freedom to report criminal proceedings

The House of Lords has dismissed the appeal from the decision of the Court of Appeal in Re S [2004] Fam 43.

The appeal was brought on behalf of a child whose mother is soon to stand trial for murdering the child’s brother. Its aim was to obtain an injunction preventing press reports of the criminal trial that would identify the child, on the grounds that such reporting would do him harm. The House of Lords, dismissing the appeal, refused to restrain press reporting of the trial in this way.

In an important decision for press freedom, Lord Steyn, giving a judgment with which all the other members of the Court agreed, held that there was “a general and strong rule in favour of unrestricted publicity of any proceedings in a criminal trial”.  Granting an injunction which had the effect of preventing such reporting in favour of a person not directly concerned in the proceedings, whether a child or an adult, would almost certainly be “a step too far”.

On the first occasion the House of Lords was given an opportunity to scrutinise the inherent jurisdiction to restrain publicity, their Lordships decided that since the coming into force of the Human Rights Act 1998, the jurisdiction was of no more than historical interest.  The correct approach for an applicant concerned about infringement of Article 8 rights would simply be to invoke the Convention.  The Court would then apply “the new methodology required by the ECHR as explained in” Campbell v MGN Ltd [2004] 2 WLR 1232.

Click here for a full 5RB case report and judgment.