PA defeats 'full-frontal attack on open justice' in landmark win backing right to publish defendant addresses

Criminal defendants’ addresses can be published unless there are exceptional circumstances, the High Court and Court of Appeal ruled in a landmark case won by PA.

The news agency successfully opposed an application by a woman who wanted to prevent the media publishing her address in reports of her trial over the death of her baby girl.

Babita Rai, 24, was accused of killing her daughter not long after she was born behind a tree in a park in Aldershot, Hampshire, in May 2017.

At a preliminary hearing in the criminal case last year, Rai’s lawyers applied for reporting restrictions preventing the media from publishing her address, arguing it would breach her right to private and family life.

Following an application by PA, Judge Keith Cutler said there was “a strong public interest” in publishing defendants’ address to ensure they can be properly identified and ruled that Rai’s address could be reported.

But Rai took her case to the High Court and the Court of Appeal, where PA stopped her bid to keep her address secret.

Giving the High Court’s ruling in February, Mr Justice Nicklin said: “The default position in criminal proceedings in England and Wales is that, unless the court exceptionally otherwise orders, the name and address of the defendant will be stated in open court.”

The judge added: “By definition, everything that is disclosed in open court proceedings, and the subsequent reporting of it, is a matter of public interest.”

Lord Justice Warby, giving the judgment of the Court of Appeal in April, said Judge Cutler could not have reached “any other conclusion”, ruling: “The disclosure and reporting of private information deployed in open court does not require item-by-item justification.

“The starting point is that everything may be reported.”

An attempt by Rai’s lawyers to take her case to the Supreme Court was also refused later in April.

The case can now be reported after Rai, of Reeves Road in Aldershot, was acquitted of murder but convicted of infanticide on Thursday following a trial at Winchester Crown Court.

PA’s editor-in-chief Pete Clifton (pictured) said: “This was an important victory for open justice and the freedom of the press to fully report criminal trials.

“We opposed this application on behalf of the media as a whole because we believed this case could set a very dangerous precedent.

“I’m delighted that we have succeeded in winning this battle for journalists around the country. PA has a very central role in the UK media and we are proud of the work we do to defend open justice.”

Jude Bunting, a barrister at Doughty Street Chambers who represented PA, said: “This was a full-frontal attack on open justice.

“The appellant’s approach, if successful, would have meant that every piece of information revealed in a criminal trial could be withheld unless a journalist could justify its reporting.

“The consequences for the media, particularly the local media, would have been striking.”

Picture: PA

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