open justice

The Guardian reports that a newspaper is appealing a decision to allow the identity of a man convicted of child pornography offences to remain anonymous in order to protect his daughters from possible bullying. The Court of Appeal will consider this matter, unusually with a five Judge panel – no doubt because of the public interest in the case and the difficult and competing human rights points which arise (right to privacy v right to free speech). In family cases the need to protect the children involved is one of the primary reasons for the cases not being made public. No doubt similar concerns swayed the Judge in this case, albeit in a very different context. The children in this criminal case are neither the victims of the offence nor the subjects of the case. I can see the arguments for protecting these children from a risk of harm but I’m not sure that it outweighs the need to do justice in public, particularly where the offence involves actual and serious harm to other children. What would be the distinction between this and the need to protect an offender’s vulnerable elderly mother (or even his not-so-vulnerable partner) from the stigma of being associated in her community with an offender of this type? The families of offenders have to deal with this all the time – it must be extremely difficult -I think this case sets a dangerous precedent. There is a risk of eroding the principle of open justice to the point of meaninglessness.

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