The Court of Appeal decided that it was in the public interest to remove the reporting restrictions in a case involving two 15-year olds who were convicted of murder. There are other points in this appeal, but this note focuses just on the reporting restriction issue.
Children and young people charged with crimes are usually granted the protection of reporting restrictions, preventing their identity being published until they reach the age of 18 (per section 45 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999). However, the court may remove this restriction if it is in the interests of justice to do so, or the effect of the restriction would be to impose a substantial and unreasonable restriction on reporting of the proceedings and it is in the public interest to remove or relax that restriction (s. 45 (4) and (5) of the 1999 Act). Under either provision the court must have regard to the welfare of the child or young person to whom the reporting restriction relates (s.45 (6).
The case concerned two 15-year olds; Lucas Markham ("D1") and Kim Edwards ("D2") (D1 was 14 at the time of the commission of the offence). They began a relationship of which their families did not approve. D2 held feelings of resentment towards her mother and younger sister. Over a course of days, they plotted to kill her mother and sister and eventually executed that plan. In October 2016, on the day of trial, D1 pleaded guilty whilst D2 offered a guilty plea to manslaughter by way of diminished responsibility. This plea was rejected and she was tried by jury and convicted of two counts of murder. Each was given a sentence of imprisonment with the minimum term of 20 years, less days spent on remand, and including a 5% discount for their pleas.
The press sought to remove the reporting restriction after the trial; their application prior to the trial having been refused due to consideration of D2's welfare and vulnerability and risks to the integrity of the trial. The judge, after carefully balancing competing principles, ruled that the order should be lifted, as there was a strong public interest in full and unrestricted reporting.
The defendants sought to appeal against sentence and the court considered the removal of the reporting restrictions.
The Court dismissed the challenge to the lifting of the reporting restrictions, and removed the stay granted pending the determination of the issue.
The Court stated, notwithstanding that the appellants are only 15 years old, they had no doubt that the lifting of reporting restrictions was lawful, pursued a legitimate aim and was a reasonable and proportionate measure that balanced the welfare of the Appellants and other factors identified within article 8 against the article 10 rights of the press and interests of the public.
The Court also stated, ‘furthermore for the future, submissions in this area of law should focus on the facts of the particular case relevant to the exercise of the Court's judgement, rather than the siren calls of abstract principles that have already informed the approach which the courts adopt'.
12 July 2017