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Truant case parents named after reporter's appeal to magistrates

An education reporter got reporting restrictions lifted on a truancy case after winning a legal battle in court.

Emma Hakier, (27), of the Wakefield Express, had been following the case of a couple whose two children had missed 213 days of school.

At the first hearing no order under Section 39 of the Children and Young Persons Act was imposed.

Senior reporter Emma told HoldtheFrontPage: “On June 30 I reported the details, including the defendants’ names, addresses and not guilty pleas. I printed the ages of their children and the name of the school.”

But restrictions were imposed at a pre-trial hearing a week later despite identifying information now being in the public domain.

The wording of the truancy charges and the order made it impossible to file anything other than a report without names.

Emma, a journalist on the four-edition weekly since leaving journalism college in 2004, added: “I put a letter together with my editor Mark Bradley to challenge the no names restriction. It was sent to the legal director at the court.”

The reply stated that just because details had already been published, it did not mean the order should be lifted. It said the order did not impose a substantial and unreasonable restriction on reporting.

The response also stated that no consideration had been given to the making of an order at the initial hearing – and the absence of an order did not mean that magistrates thought it would be in the interests of justice to publish the details of the children.

But the letter gave the advice that Emma should challenge the order at the next hearing.

She did that when the couple changed their pleas to guilty. Their children, aged 12 and 14, had failed to attend school regularly between February 20 and May 26 this year.

After hearing the facts of the case all the interested parties were invited to make representations about the banning order.

Emma said: “I stood up and explained that details had already been published because no order had been made. I said the order placed an unreasonable restriction on reporting and protected the identity of the defendants when there was public interest in naming them.

“I also pointed out that the power of the magistrates to impose a Section 39 was discretionary and that there must be a good reason to make one.

“And I argued there was a clear distinction between the automatic ban in a Youth Court under Section 49 and a Section 39 in adult court.

“I said there was a huge public interest element in identifying defendants charged with continually allowing their children to play truant. I stressed that naming them would send a strong message to parents and may have a positive effect on truancy levels across the district.”

The bench decided there would be no adverse welfare issues through identification.

Presiding magistrate and head of the Wakefield bench, Rod Young, said: “We feel that the public interest in the efforts of the educational system and the prosecution outcome outweighs any potential welfare issue and are prepared to make an order to lift the restrictions.”

Express editor Mark Bradley said: “Our reporters are encouraged to challenge the courts if they feel it’s warranted, and in this case it certainly was. Emma did a fine job, following due process with determination.”

The proceedings were fully reported. Magistrates adjourned sentencing to a later date.

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