A thought-provoking decision has been handed down by the Court in the case of R v Ayman Aziz relating to anonymity orders of young offenders.
In this case, Aziz aged 16 at the time, was convicted of the rape and murder of a 14 year old girl. Aziz was sentenced to a minimum term of 19 years for the murder, and 10 years for the rape which was to be served concurrently.
The facts of this case make for sad reading. Aziz had been friends with the victim and it was for that reason she agreed to meet with him in a park, having recently got back in contact. Messages between the two show that they were going to meet to discuss an upcoming trip to London, to “smoke weed” and chat.
Unfortunately, the trip would never go ahead. Aziz brutally murdered and raped the victim, leaving her blood stained body for a member of the public to find. Initially Aziz denied the charges which lead to a pre-sentence report and psychiatric evaluation being carried out.
Whilst Aziz was diagnosed as suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, the Forensic Psychiatrist was unable to determine whether there was a link between the mental disorder and the offending. The judge therefore took any mitigating factors into account and identified a starting point for the minimum of 12 years given his age at the time of offending.
As you will all know, children and young people are generally protected from being identified in criminal proceedings, regardless of whether they are defendants, witnesses or victims. However, in this case, a newspaper submitted an application for the judge to lift the reporting restrictions under s45(3) of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 which would allow them to identify Aziz in their articles.
The judge granted to application to waive anonymity, under an ‘excepting direction’ and discharged the right to anonymity entirely. The difficulty here was that Aziz was separately challenging his sentence, so the judge said that the appeal had to be dealt with before Aziz could be identified.
The judge concluded that the offences were of such magnitude that anonymity could be waived as the members of the community in Wolverhampton had the right to know the identity of the offender. He also decided that even if anonymity was waived, the offender would not be at any greater risk than others and it would not have an effect on his rehabilitation.
The decision to waive the right to anonymity has been criticised. In particular because the judge held that as the offender would be 18 shortly after the decision, anonymity would fall away anyway.
This meant that the only option to hide Aziz’s identity would be to apply for an injunction against the world, similar to that sought for John Venables.
However, these decisions are exceptional and are reserved to protect notorious criminals against the threat of their personal safety.
In these circumstances, the judge was correct to decide that Aziz did not need on-going anonymity and was entitled to waive his right to anonymity on the basis that it would soon fall away anyway.
One of the underlying issues with this case was that an anonymity order should ensure that it covers all forms of media publication. This initial order here only prevented newspaper reports from detailing the proceedings, including the offender’s name, age and photo.
Clearly, this did not prevent the report in any other form of publication. Presumably this order was drafted based on an old template, highlighting a loop hole as the protection should have been wider. Whilst no reports took advantage of the narrow wording of the order, it has emphasised the necessity to ensure that anonymity orders protect the individuals at all levels.
This case highlights that the press are right to challenge anonymity orders. It is encouraging to see the Courts taking the approach that just because someone isn’t quite 18, doesn’t mean that they can benefit from anonymity awarded to much younger children involved in the courts.
As we all know, lifetime anonymity orders are particularly rare, and continue to be so. It is good to see that the Courts aren’t handing out anonymity orders left, right and centre and highlights the importance of open justice and the freedom of the press.