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Lifetime Anonymity For Young Criminals

Lifetime Anonymity For Young Criminals

Youth justice campaigners have called for a change in the law to give children accused of crimes anonymity for life, to prevent them and their family being stigmatised “in perpetuity”. The call for change comes after a national newspaper identified the suspect following the murder of Ann Maguire, a teacher at a secondary school in Leeds.

In a letter to the Times the campaigners, who include leading figures from Howard League for Penal Reform, the Royal College of Physicians, and the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, back calls for a change in the law so that no child in trouble can be publicly named, with their anonymity to be protected beyond the age of 18.

They argue Mrs Maguire’s death on April 28 has thrown “the inadequacy of the law into sharp relief”. The campaigners note that as news reports can stay online, they may jeopardise an accused child’s chances of rehabilitation and future employment, while also putting individuals and their families at risk of vigilante action.

Unfit for purpose

The letter, which is headed by Penelope Gibbs, the chair of Committee for Youth Justice, an alliance of 30 organisations, says: “Too many children in trouble with the law are being publicly named and legislation on this is inconsistent, confusing and in need of reform. A loophole allows under-18s to be named before they are charged. Children in the Crown, and higher, criminal courts have no automatic right to anonymity; children in the youth court do”. The letter moves on to warn that the current law “breaches the UK’s commitment to uphold children’s rights” and is “unfit for purpose”.

Current legislation gives anonymity only to children in the youth courts unless they are subject to anti-social behaviour orders, although courts can decide to waive it. Criminal courts usually grant anonymity but there is no automatic right to it.

“We want the law changed so no child who has been in trouble with the law (or been a witness) can be publicly named. We also call on the media to be more responsible. If they did not ask to name children in the name of ‘open justice’, these children would not be identified,” a report from the campaigners, What’s in a Name?, states.

Risk of attack

The report argues that children in trouble with the law who lose their privacy are put at risk of physical attack, exploitation and psychological or emotional harm. “It is not in the public interest for children to be named and shamed by the media, and have their crimes and misdemeanours in social media for ever. These children have done wrong, but they need to rebuild their lives and naming and shaming them makes it harder for them to turn their back on crime. If we want safer communities and fewer victims, we need to do everything possible to rehabilitate children who commit crime. Exposing them and their family to public vilification will make it more, not less, likely that they will go on to commit more crimes,” it warns.

IBB’s Criminal Defence team has specialist solicitors that provide advice assistance and representation for young people at the police station, youth court, magistrates’ court, Crown Court and on appeal. The team also deals with a whole range of youth offending. All of our solicitors are also on a number of Duty Solicitor rotas at a number of courts.

The Criminal Defence team can be contacted in confidence on 03456 381381 or contacted free via Whatsapp on 07899 953415 or Blackberry messenger: PIN 287DA137. It can also be reached on its 24-hour hotline for immediate representation at a police station by ringing 0330 999 4999. To email please the team please contact Joanne.Gibbons@ibblaw.co.uk