19 Jul 2017

Anna Rothwell comments on the PNM v Times Newspaper Supreme Court judgment in The Law Society Gazette

Newspapers have won the right to identify a man arrested but never charged following a child sex grooming investigation in a landmark Supreme Court ruling today. In Khuja v Times Newspapers Limited and others, justices ruled that the principle of open justice outweighs any harm done to the individual’s private or family life by reporting the arrest.

The case arose from the trial of nine men arrested in the Oxford area after a police investigation into child sex grooming and prostitution. Seven men were convicted in 2013. The appellant, originally identified as PNM, was arrested at the same time, apparently on the basis of his first name, but released after an alleged victim failed to identify him. He was not charged with any offence but his identity emerged in evidence given at the Old Bailey trial. He secured an injunction under section 4(2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 preventing newspapers from naming him.

Anna Rothwell of criminal firm Corker Binning said:

“The Supreme Court has today, by a majority of 5:2, lifted the anonymity order allowing the identity of PNM to be published.  The fact that seven members of the Supreme Court were empanelled demonstrates the importance of the principles at stake.

The seven member panel, having carefully scrutinised the principle of open justice versus an individual’s right to privacy, has concluded it is a cardinal principle that the administration of justice is conducted in public, despite the collateral damage that publication of an innocent person’s name may cause to their reputation and family life.

This will be an extremely disappointing judgment for privacy campaigners and lawyers, as there has in recent years been a growing recognition that the identity of those suspected of crimes should not generally be released to the public before charge.  It had been hoped that there would be a rebalancing of rights in favour of innocent parties named in open court.

The Court concluded that the press acts as the eyes and ears of the public in court and that as it is a cardinal principle of open justice that court proceedings must be open to public scrutiny, the press must be allowed to report what is stated in open court.

Despite the fact that the Court concludes there was a real risk that a member of the public may conclude PNM was guilty of sexual abuse (despite him never having been charged let along convicted), this was not enough to tip the scales in favour of protecting his identity.  The collateral damage he (and other innocent individuals, including family members) may suffer was not sufficient to outweigh the importance of open justice and the press’s ability to act as the eyes and ears of the public in court.”

Read Anna’s comments published in The Law Society Gazette here