Why the Daily Mail drew a veil over identity of woman who insisted on wearing niqab in court

There is a striking contrast in media reports of the judgement in the case of the woman who refused to remove her veil in court proceedings for religious reasons.

On Monday, the Daily Telegraph reported the judgement and named the woman – Rebekah Dawson, 22, who is facing trial for allegedly intimidating a witness.

But the Daily Mail only referred to her as ‘D’, and said … "she cannot be named for legal reasons", even though they had named her in previous stories about the same case.

Dawson has also been named in the Lancashire Telegraph and the Northern Echo, in relation to the niqab issue – and she has now been named in the Press Gazette!

Many legal observers, including me, wondered whether the Telegraph breached a reporting restriction by using Dawson’s name. The use of a letter, D, in court is usually enough to start alarm bells ringing.

But so far, neither the judge, Peter  Murphy, or the Attorney General have acted.

Mike Dodd, co-author of Macnae’s Essential Law for Journalist, explained the mystery.

He said: "My understanding is that there is an order under section 4 (2) of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 prohibiting publication of her address.

"This is itself questionable, in my view, as publication of her address will have no effect on the possibility of prejudice to the proceedings.

"But I am told that there is no order banning publication of her name.

"Some media outlets appear to have taken the view that naming her in coverage of the niqab row would have a prejudicial effect on jurors when she comes up for trial for alleged witness intimidation, and have thus decided to leave her name out of the copy."

The Mail fits into this category.

Mike added: "The Telegraph appears to have taken the view that, although the judge dealing with the niqab issue referred to her as D in his decision, and she was referred to as D in court, she could be named because there is no order in force banning publication of her name."

Judge Murphy could not pass a section 11 order restricting media use of her name, as she had been named already – the s11 cannot be applied retrospectively.

Mike added:  "The judge could also have made an order under section 4 (2) postponing publication of any reports about the niqab issue until after her trial.

"He did not do so – a clear indication, in my view, that he did not take the view that publication of these reports would bring with it a serious risk of substantial prejudice to her trial on the intimidation charge, or any other case in which she might be involved."

Mike believes there is no restriction on naming Dawson. "Apart from anything else, the fact that she will be in the dock wearing a niqab will probably give the game away to the jury anyway."

In terms of reporting restrictions, Mike does not believe reporting restrictions under the  Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996 applied as it was a pre-trial hearing.

"The only restriction on reporting a pre-trial hearing is that one cannot report rulings made by the judge on the admissibility of evidence, or other questions of law, or on applications for rulings to be made, varied or discharged.

"The question is: Was this an application for a ruling to be made, varied or discharged? On balance, I think the answer is no – and anyway, as the issue is of such importance for open justice, and a matter of such public interest it would not have been justifiable to attempt to delay or restrict reporting."

Dawson is also involved in other, separate criminal proceedings.

Cleland Thom is a consultant in media law

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