It will have been hard to avoid the plethora of commentary about the sentencing and naming of William Cornick, since his court appearance on November 3.
Contrary to some media reports, Cornick’s anonymity up until that day had not been automatic – it was a result of an order that was in place under S.39 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (“the Order”). Also contrary to some reports, it is not highly unusual for a S.39 Order to be lifted in circumstances such as these.
Cornick pleaded guilty to murdering his Spanish teacher, Ann Maguire, at Leeds Crown Court, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. The facts of the case are horrific, and I am sure that all readers of this column are fully aware of them.
The Order was put in place at Cornick’s first appearance in court, which prevented him from being identified in reports of the case. Following Cornick’s guilty plea an application was made by Guardian News & Media, Associated Newspapers, News Group Newspapers, the Press Association, and the Telegraph Media Group, for the Order to be lifted.
The media collectively argued that this is a case of exceptional public interest, and therefore justice should be seen to be done, citing their Article 10 rights to Freedom of Expression. A relevant factor was also that Cornick had pleaded guilty, and therefore will not be subjected to publicity, only to be cleared at a later date. The defence resisted the application, arguing that Cornick’s welfare should be paramount, and that naming him would put his life in danger, as well as impeding his rehabilitation and treatment.
Mr Justice Coulson decided that although there was a “fine balance” in this case, the Order should be lifted and freedom of expression should prevail. The “clear deterrent effect” in naming Cornick was cited as a major reason for lifting the Order.
The media also argued that Cornick had already been widely named on social media and legally by the Sun before he was charged, but Mr Justice Coulson gave limited weight to this argument.
S.39 Orders are imposed in courts all over the country, day in, day out. I have seen S.39 Orders imposed in relation to children who are not “concerned” in the proceedings, or who are deceased, and even on adults – clearly, a S.39 Order is not applicable in any of these circumstances and such Orders are open to challenge on obvious grounds. Generally, when dealing with a correctly imposed S.39 Order, such as the one imposed in Cornick’s case, important aspects to consider when challenging a S.39 Order are:
- The seriousness of the offence
- Whether the defendant pleads guilty
- The impact of the crime on the community
- The public interest in identifying the defendant, and
- The potential deterrent effect of naming the defendant.
The above is not an exhaustive list by any means, but is a useful starting point when considering the arguments that you want to make.
‘Reporting Restrictions in the Criminal Courts’, produced by the Media Lawyers Association, the Newspaper Society and the Society of Editors, is a very useful reference point when it comes to reporting restrictions. Pages 15 to 16 contain information relating specifically to S.39 Orders. The latest edition of the guidance was published in June 2014, and should form a basic part of a court reporter’s toolkit.
Coming back to the issue of automatic anonymity, are there any circumstances in which there is an automatic anonymity for minors when they face criminal charges?
The answer is that automatic anonymity for a defendant, who is a minor, only exists if the case is being dealt with by the Youth Court. Under S.49 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, no report can reveal the name, address school, or any other particulars which are likely to lead to identification of young persons involved in proceedings in the Youth Court. This applies to young defendants and witnesses.
Crucially, S.49 only applies to proceedings in the Youth Court, and does not apply to young persons who are being tried in the adult courts. If a young person is being tried in the Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court, a S.39 Order must be used to prevent them from being identified, as was the case with Cornick.
Whilst we are on the topic of S.39 Orders, it is always worth remembering that under current case law, they cease to apply once the subject of the order turns 18. However, this is currently being challenged in the courts – I’ll keep you updated!