Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page


Lord Windlesham: Other than a brief mention at Second Reading by the Minister of State, there has been no discussion at all in the long hours we have spent in Committee on the Bill on the important matter of reporting restrictions. The intention of Clauses 43 and 44 is explained in the Explanatory Notes as being to clarify and extend the present statutory protection of certain witnesses and alleged child or juvenile offenders from being identified in the media. The present lacuna is addressed in Clause 43; that is, the time between the making of an allegation that an offence has been committed and the charging or the laying of the information before a magistrate. Clause 43 would eliminate that. It is highly desirable that the interests of potentially vulnerable children and young people are to be protected from potentially harmful media identification and the resulting publicity. So, in my opinion, this clause is welcome.

My noble friend Lord Cope has raised an important point. I suspect that, speaking as he has from the standpoint of newspaper editors, we shall end up on different sides of the argument on this matter. However, the question of what constitutes an allegation occurred to me as well. It is not clear at present, either in the Bill or in the Explanatory Notes, who makes the allegation. I have considerable doubts as to whether it should simply be the police. We must remember that some allegations made in the press, substantiated or otherwise, can be extremely damaging to young people who are accused of what may be a serious criminal offence, and to witnesses, because the Bill refers to, "those involved in criminal proceedings". It would therefore be helpful to hear from the Minister a definition as to what constitutes an allegation.

Viscount Brentford: I have a great deal of sympathy with this amendment. However, the problem that I have with the wording may be what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, hinted at; namely, that an allegation can often be made by the media long before the police have formulated it. I can imagine that the media will often be the first to report an offence being made. Therefore I wonder whether this amendment can work in practice. I therefore look forward to hearing the Minister's reply. Surely it is important that this point is clarified. At present it is obscure to the media and to other people.

Lord Monson: When the Minister replies, will he explain why a witness or potential witness aged 17 years and 11 months is said to be in need of the protection of Clause 43, while a witness aged, let us say, 18 years and one month is said not to be in need of that protection?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: There is always a cut-off point, whether it is driving at 30 mph as opposed to 30.2 mph, and 18 is normally regarded as the occasion

8 Feb 1999 : Column 68

of reaching adulthood in terms of ability to vote and similar activities. We think that is a sensible cut-off point. It is used in other legislation.

To summarise the position we have arrived at, the reason that "allegation" is included is that the provision follows the precedent of Section 1 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. There has been no difficulty in practice in using the word "allegation". I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Windlesham, that it should not be limited to the police and public. After all, there are many bodies which prosecute, or have charge of allegations, in the context of allegations against children--teachers and social workers, for instance; an allegation made to the press itself may also count.

On a small point, there is a defence for publishers, which includes the print media, in Clause 48(5). However, my fundamental response may be of assistance to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, in deciding whether or not he wishes to press this matter at all. I am very conscious of the fact that we need a free press, which ought to be able to report matters of public interest unless there are convincing reasons for not doing so. We adopted that approach in relation to the Human Rights Bill and produced a satisfactory outcome, and similarly in relation to what was then Clause 31 of the Data Protection Bill, again with a satisfactory outcome.

Representatives of the press and the broadcast media visited officials in the Home Office last week. I have undertaken to see them again on Wednesday to talk through all the issues that concern them. Some concerns may be wrongly based; some may be perfectly legitimate. Therefore I assure the Committee that I am genuinely approaching those discussions with an open mind. In the past, my dealings with the broadcast and print media, not least the Guild of Editors, have been helpful and productive. They have always approached matters in an open-minded way.

Having dealt with the point on allegations and the defence in Clause 48(5), for the remainder I should prefer to have discussions with the media representatives on Wednesday to see whether we cannot safeguard their legitimate interests as well as the interests that all Members of the Committee feel need to be safeguarded in the context of children.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: I am glad to hear that the Minister is approaching his forthcoming meeting with editors with an open mind. We were told that he would approach the whole Bill with an open mind. With due respect to him, that has not been frightfully apparent thus far in relation to some of the earlier clauses. However, in view of the forthcoming meeting and his remarks about the provisions of Amendment No. 126A, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8 Feb 1999 : Column 69

7.15 p.m.

Lord Windlesham moved Amendment No. 126AA:


Page 31, line 18, leave out subsection (6).

The noble Lord said: I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 126E and 126F. It is fortuitous that the Minister of State is shortly to meet representatives of the Guild of Editors and the broadcasting organisations--

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I said I was meeting representatives of the media. I did not specifically include the Guild of Editors.

Lord Windlesham: The point that I was about to make regarding representatives of the media is unaltered. When the Minister meets those representatives, will he bear in mind that there is another, equally important public interest which must be balanced with the interests of a free press? It is to that that I wish to address my remarks.

Clauses 43 and 44, setting out the restrictions on reporting alleged offences and criminal proceedings involving persons under 18, give the court the discretion to allow publicity, or partial publicity, in relation to the identities and other details of defendants under 18 if they are satisfied that it is in the interests of justice--a phrase repeatedly used in the debates on previous amendments. These amendments seek to test that provision in the light of Britain's international obligations under the relevant conventions.

Leaving aside the European Convention on Human Rights--since the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, has made a statement on the face of the Bill; or perhaps I should say on the cover to the Bill rather than in the contents--that in his view the provisions are compatible with the convention rights, that leaves us with three international conventions to which the Government of the United Kingdom is party.

The earliest is the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966. The covenant required that,


    "any judgment rendered in a criminal case or in a suit at law shall be made public except where the interest of juvenile persons otherwise requires, or the proceedings concern matrimonial disputes or the guardianship of children".

Next came the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989. Article 40 required the privacy of children alleged as, or accused of, having infringed the penal law,


    "to have his or her privacy fully respected at all stages of the proceedings".

More detailed were the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (known as the Beijing Rules) in 1985. Rule 8.1 states:


    "The juvenile's rights to privacy shall be respected at all stages in order to avoid harm being caused to her or him by undue publicity, or by the process of labelling".
Rule 8.2 states:


    "In principle, no information that may lead to the identification of a juvenile offender shall be published".

In the official commentary to the rules it was made clear that,

8 Feb 1999 : Column 70


    "Young persons are particularly susceptible to stigmatisation. Criminological research into labelling processes has provided evidence of the detrimental effects (of different kinds) resulting from the permanent identification of young people as 'delinquent' or 'criminal'".
Rule 8 stresses the importance of protecting the juvenile from the adverse effects that may result from the publication in the mass media of information about the case; for example, the names of young offenders alleged or convicted.

It is important to recall that the United Kingdom has accepted all those obligations. Her Majesty's Government were one of the first to sign and ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Two more recent reports are also relevant. The report of the 10th session of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1995 said:


    "The privacy of the child should be fully respected in all stages of proceedings, including in relation to criminal records and possible reporting by the media".
The report of the 11th session in 1996 states:


    "It is important that the media themselves do not abuse children. The integrity of the child should be protected in reporting about, for instance, involvement in criminal activities".
We should never underestimate the intensity of media pressure on the courts to lift reporting restrictions. There have been recent examples of high profile cases involving young people charged with offences. But none has been as vivid and poignant as the trial of the two boys, aged 10 at the time, for the murder of a much younger child, the victim being James Bulger. In situations of that kind, the interests of justice, to which we have so often referred in these debates, and the right to know, about which the noble Lord will hear much in his forthcoming meeting, pull in different directions.

So it is for that reason, which I have developed in the past few minutes, that I submit that additional protection for children and young persons, as contained in this part of the Bill, is welcome; it is needed and it should be drawn as tightly as possible. There should be no more than minimal exceptions to the doctrine of no publicity. If that is so, there will be a chance that the extreme pressures the other way may be resisted. I beg to move.


Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page