The ongoing coverage of the stabbing of teacher Ann Maguire at her school in Leeds brings the current law regarding naming juvenile crime suspects into focus again.
Most media have said they cannot name the 15-year-old suspect for ‘legal reasons’ … though they have published and broadcast a large amount of detail that could lead to his ID.
In fact I would say they can name him … for legal reasons.
The boy only receives legal anonymity under the Children and Young Person’s Act 1933 once youth court proceedings start.
UPDATE 2/5/2014: The boy has now appeared in court so reporting restrictions on identifying him are in place.
Legally, there’s a loophole. He can be safely named up to that point.
The last government tried to plug this loophole by introducing the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999.
This act brought the anonymity trigger point back to when an investigation starts. But the government put the measure ‘on ice’ – it has not used it, and allows the press to self-regulate in this area, provided it does so responsibly. Legally, the CYPA 1933 still applies.
The PCC Code discourages naming under-16s involved with crime, but allows it in cases of ‘exceptional’ public interest.
In the case of the Leeds schoolboy, I would say that there is exceptional public interest. It was a notorious crime, and raises broader issues about the safety of teachers in schools.
His name is already freely available online … I’ve just been looking at his Facebook page. And you can guarantee that every child at Corpus Christie Catholic college knows who he is – and probably most of the population of Leeds by now.
Teenagers have been named before during this legal ‘loophole’ period between the arrest and the first court proceedings. Some were identified during the multiple arrests of terrorism suspects in 2006, without any legal consequences.
I wonder which national media outlet will break ranks first? The Sun appears today to have been the first media outlet to name the child.