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Reporter demands top judge acts on defendants’ ‘self-harm’ secrecy bids

scales-of-justiceA court reporter has urged a top judge to act after warning the number of bids to keep defendants anonymous because they may harm themselves is “out of control”.

Tanya Fowles has written to the office of the Lady Chief Justice in Northern Ireland to call for guidance to be issued to judges on the matter after she experienced a “sharp increase” in applications for Reporting Restriction Orders and Anonymity Orders.

Tanya, who covers courts in Northern Ireland in addition to her work as a BBC local democracy reporter, says many of these applications have been made on the basis of self-harm if defendants are publicly named.

In her letter, she accused defence lawyers of trying to “use the courts to silence legitimate press coverage of cases”.

Tanya wrote: “In the past such applications were only a very rare exception however the granting of many orders on this basis erroneously has now made them a common occurrence.

“A trend has been permitted, compounded by failures to adhere to regulations.

“The continuous attempts of defence lawyers to use the courts to silence legitimate press coverage of cases, as protected in law and open justice, is simply out of control.

“The legislation and human rights have not changed, nor has the role of press but our role is being significantly interfered with.”

Tanya went on to say that she has now had to challenge all such applications because she is “simply no longer able to discern which instances are legitimate, given the onslaught of so many claims”.

She added: “We are asking the LCJ to look into this matter, including reviewing the number of submissions filed on this basis.

“It will not go unnoticed how these have significantly increased.

“Press also seek the LCJ to issue a guidance direction around this and provide a comment around same for publication.”

Tanya is awaiting a response from the LCJ’s office.