A regional daily has pulled its reporter off coverage of a court case after a judge refused to lift a gagging order.
The South Wales Argus has abandoned its coverage of a case of wilful neglect of a baby because it feels it cannot report the proceedings meaningfully.
It followed a judge’s refusal to lift a section 39 order preventing the identification of an 18-month-old baby which in turn prevented the paper from naming the defendants.
Editor Gerry Keighley says he is “fed-up” with arguing with judges over such cases, claiming the law is being applied “inconsistently.”
The case is being heard by Judge Stephen Hopkins at Cardiff Crown Court and concerned two defendants, a mother and her partner, accused of wilful neglect against a baby who had suffered a number of injuries when it was about six months old.
After the judge initially placed the order, Simon Westrop, head of legal for the Argus’s parent company Newsquest, wrote to him pointing out a number of previous cases in which judges had stated that babies cannot be harmed by publicity.
He also repeated guidance from the Judicial Studies Board and the Lord Chief Justice about the placing of section 39 orders.
Nevertheless Judge Hopkins refused to lift the order and said that in his view naming the parents would automatically lead to the baby being named.
Said Gerry: “Under those restrictions I felt there was no point in us being in court. I have written to the judge and told him that I believe the order and the guidance have prevented open justice being served.
“I have also said that if similar rulings are made in similar cases in future we will not report them.
“I am fed up with pleading with different judges over the years and quoting the same old precedents. I recognise the judges have discretion in their own courts, but there is little consistency.
“It’s the press on one side and the judges, barristers and social services on the other. It was especially galling in this case because the judge originally banned us from naming the defendants.
“When we pointed out that he couldn’t he removed that clause but then told us that in his view naming them would identify the child.
“I have no wish to identify children who are old enough to be harmed (possibly) by publicity, but it has been said time and again by senior judges that babies cannot be harmed by publicity.”
“I’ve fought lots of these cases over the years, but things don’t improve. I’m not wasting any more time or company money on similar cases.
“The Lord Chief Justice and the Judicial Studies Board should tell their judges that in some cases their orders are damaging open justice and giving people who injure children the protection of anonymity.”