- Judge: 'We live in a free and open society where we cherish freedom of speech and the rule of law'
- PC Sugra Hanif allegedly supplied details to third parties involved with personal injury litigation
- Should never be 'routine' or 'the norm' to impose reporting restrictions
A judge rejected an attempt by a police officer accused of misusing force computer systems to stop the media naming her in reports of the case.
Judge Jeremy Richardson QC dismissed applications in the High Court by Thames Valley PC Sugra Hanif, saying the principle of open justice was "not judicial mantra but something with real meaning".
Hanif, 26, of Bretch Hill, Banbury, Oxfordshire, is due to go on trial later this year charged with conspiracy to commit misconduct in a public office and data protection offences.
She is charged along with two other defendants.
On Friday last week she applied at the High Court, sitting in Leeds, for judicial review of a District Judge's refusal to make an order under section 4 (2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 which would have stopped the media reporting her name and address until the end of the criminal proceedings against her.
She also sought an interim injunction which would have stopped the media from identifying her until the conclusion of the judicial review proceedings.
Judge Richardson heard that the charges against Hanif related to allegations that she supplied third parties involved with personal injury litigation with details of road traffic accidents from police computer systems.
She first applied for the reporting restriction postponing publication of her name and address when she appeared at Aldershot Magistrates Court on January 24.
But a District Judge rejected the application.
On Friday, Nicholas Worsley, for Hanif, told Judge Richardson that his client was identified in a Thames Valley Police press release after she was charged in January, and that this was widely reported.
After this, a fence at her home was damaged – which might have been related to the publicity, he said, adding that Hanif's family, some of whom might be witnesses in the case, were worried about further incidents.
This, he argued, could affect the administration of justice, especially if they decided against giving evidence due to their concerns.
Worsley said Hanif lived with her parents, and her brother and his family lived next door.
The area where they lived was predominantly white, working class, and her family were the only Asian households in the area.
The application in the magistrates' court was only for a "holding order" until all the evidence about the impact on Hanif's family could be fully explored before the trial judge.
But Judge Richardson said leave for judicial review could only be granted if the claimant could demonstrate the District Judge had reached an "irrational" decision.
"It seems to me that the learned District Judge conscientiously heard and determined this application, plainly had well in mind all the relevant factors and reached an entirely understandable and rational decision," he said.
"The cardinal principle which holds a central place in all decision making in cases of this kind is that we live in a free and open society where we cherish freedom of speech and the rule of law.
"A crucial part of that freedom is a free press available to report and comment (sometimes uncomfortably) on a trial before the courts.
"Collateral with that is the equally important public interest of the court securing a fair trial for those appearing before the court and for there to be open justice."
Judge Richardson said: "I emphasise again, this is not judicial mantra but something with real meaning."
He repeatedly emphasised that an application for a section 4 (2) order could only succeed if there was a substantial risk of prejudice to the administration of justice which could only be avoided by restricting publication.
The judge expressed his sympathy with the predicament of some families of those charged with criminal offences and agreed it was "uncomfortable for all connected to the case".
But he added: "It is the price we pay in a free society. It is, in my judgment, a price worth paying."
Hanif's situation was far from unique in criminal trials, he said, adding that the incident which led to the original application was a "comparatively trivial event".
After referring to a number of authorities on the open justice principle, he went on: "It is all too simple to erode freedoms. We see it all around the world."
It should never be "routine" or "the norm" to impose restrictions on reporting, he added.
The judge accepted written submission from Peter Asteris, for the Crown Prosecution Service, which he said were "a comprehensive answer" to the points put forward by r Worsley.
Earlier, he had invited Press Association reporter Dave Higgens to make representations about the application but he then said that, given his thinking on the application, he felt that this was no longer necessary.
He understood that the Press Association would align itself very firmly with arguments set out by Asteris, and added that he had borne in mind that which he could predict that Higgens would have said had he had the opportunity.
Hanif is due to appear at Winchester Crown Court for a plea and case management hearing in April.