22 September 2014

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Newspapers defied courts to name teenage offender

Three local newspapers in Scotland named a teenage offender in reports after being banned from covering the court case.

Sister titles the Highland News, The Inverness Courier and Ross-shire Journal were unable to send reporters to cover the case of 18-year -old Lloyd Macdonald who appeared at Inverness Sheriff Court last month and who was considered to be so dangerous that he was put under 24 hour police surveillance.

Despite the reporting ban, the sister titles have now all named the teenager and published photos of him as a matter of public interest after seeking legal advice that they would not be in contempt of court to do so.

The teenager was imprisoned for what the court called a ‘sexualised breach of the peace’ and no explanation was given as to why the case was heard in closed court – something that usually only happens in cases involving national security.

The Inverness Courier, part of Scottish Provincial Press, tried unsuccessfully to have the reporting restrictions lifted when Macdonald appeared for sentence at Inverness Sheriff Court on Friday 2 September.

It reports: “We were told to present a petition to the Nobile Officium — a legal process involving the High Court of Justiciary or the Court of Session costing thousands of pounds.”

Rosalind McInnes, author of Scots Law for Journalists, who described the original decision to ban the press as “extraordinary” and “outlandish”, said the accused’s background made press scrutiny of the case even more important.

She said: “I think that the press should be able to report a criminal trial, regardless of whether the accused is considered to be a public danger or not, but obviously if the police have these concerns, this strengthens the public interest in knowing who he is and what happened at his trial.”

“Clearly where issues of public safety are considered to arise from a court case it is all the more important that the public should be able to see and be told about the administration in the courts for which they pay. The Inverness Courier is highlighting a very important issue here — the erosion of open justice for reasons which are by no means clear.”

To date, the court has refused to release details of the charges against the teenager and his sentence is still not known.

The Ross-Shire Journal said the surveillance on the youngster began when he returned to the Highlands after being released from secure accommodation he was sent to as a juvenile. He had been put back on remand after displaying “very concerning behaviour” during the short periods he was unsupervised.

Media law consultant David Banks praised The Inverness Courier. He said: “This case shows the absolutely vital role the local press plays in ensuring the open reporting of the courts.”

“If it were not for the dogged pursuit of this by the staff of The Inverness Courier a very dangerous situation would have gone unreported — it is to be congratulated for its determination not to be cowed by extraordinary secrecy orders.”

1 Comment

  1. Parvenu

    Well done. I’d like to hear more from the paper’s editor and the staff concerned – what they think about it all. And presumably this will now go to a legal level where the judge (or whatever fanciful title the Scottish legal system bestows upon such a person) blasts all these crazy orders out of the water.

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