15 September 2014

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Weekly journalist overturns court gag in baby-killing case

A weekly newspaper journalist successfully challenged a court clerk’s attempt to prevent the naming of a baby girl allegedly killed by her father.

Brighton Magistrates Court clerk Sandra Cryan initially imposed a Section 39 order in the case of Mark Sandland, 27, who is charged with killing his daughter Aimee Rose in November 2012.

But Sol Buckner, assistant content editor at the Hastings Observer Series, immediately challenged the move and later spoke to the clerk during a break in proceedings, along with TV journalists Colin Campbell of BBC South East Today and Malcolm Shaw of Meridian News.

After Sol was allowed to address the packed courtroom, the clerk told the bench that the S39 order could not be issued.

Before speaking against the order, Sol found the relevant guidance and asked head of news Dave King to email as much case law as possible.

The three journalists also asked the clerk to search online for the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933, which states at section 4.1 (1) (b): ‘Orders cannot be made in respect of dead children.’

Said Sol: “In almost 20 years of being in the industry I had never come across something like this.

“I was adamant that the bench should understand that the court clerk had no power to issue a Section 39 order on a dead child. I hastily drafted some notes and case law which Dave King had emailed and was prepared for a long argument.

“I had made several challenges in various magistrates court against Section 39 orders but never one for a dead child, which had the alarm bells ringing immediately.

“I had the support of my fellow journalists present and it was a team effort. The problem was I had no idea how much time I had to prepare my argument which is always difficult. I had about 30 minutes in the end to organise myself and steady the nerves.

“However I was only allowed to speak for a couple of minutes before the clerk said no order could be issued and there was no need for me to carry on.

“It is incredibly frustrating for the media when faced with situations like this. I understand the clerk may not deal with many cases like this in her career but one expects common sense to prevail in situations like this.  We were all on deadline so it held everyone up for at least 90 minutes not to mention the morning’s court proceedings.”

3 Comments

  1. Neil Fowler

    It is worth remembering that all the relevant guidance to make the above happen is contained in the 2000 publication ‘Reporting Restrictions in the Magistrates Court’, which was published by the Judicial Studies Board, the Society of Editors and the Newspaper Society under the supervision of the then Senior Presiding Judge of England and Wales, Igor Judge, now the Lord Chief Justice.

    Included in this guidance, which all media offices should have, was that the court had ‘no power to make an order to to prevent identification of a deceased child’, and that when magistrates were considering imposing some form of restriction they should ‘invite oral or written representations by the media or their representatives’.

    And it is worth reminding ourselves of the reasons behind the guidance – which is to aim for as much open justice as possible and was introduced to look specifically at the issue of when parents were charged with offences relating to the death of their child (Baby P being a recent example).

    Do we want trials where defendants are unnamed, found guilty and then sentenced with no identification? I would argue not.

    No-one should just disappear at the behest of the state with the public not understanding why. It’s a simple view that we should aim to defend at all costs.

    Well done to Sol.

    Neil Fowler

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  2. Mark Hanna, co-author McNae's, Sheffield

    This was an excellent group effort to challenge a daft order. Hats off to all, including Sol.

    Just a quick point…..The story says that section 4.1 (1) (b) of the 1933 Act says: ‘Orders cannot be made in respect of dead children’.

    In fact, I think this is what section 4.1 (1) (b) of an earlier version of the Judicial College guidelines says (and the point is made too in the current version).

    Section 4 of the 1933 Act does not say this, and does not relate to court reporting. The Act itself does not make the point about section 39 not covering dead children. This point was established by case law.

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  3. paul durrant

    Neil’s absolutely right, but the principle of not being able to slap a s39 on dead children is now enshrined in the updated JSB protocol: “Reporting Restrictions in the Criminal Courts” published in 2009 (from memory) which covers both mags and crown courts.
    Every news desk and court reporter should have it in their kitbag to deal with these clerks, magistrates and judges who frankly don’t know media law as well as we do, or at least should.
    We have to stay vigilant on these things and the protocol is the Bible that empowers us.
    As Neil rightly says, the document is endorsed by the Lord Chief Justice, so the next time you have a problem, just slap it in front of the court and tell them: “Don’t take my word for it, have a look at what your boss has to say…”

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