Case Law: Venables Anonymity Judgment

31 07 2010

On 30 July 2010 Mr Justice Bean handed down judgment concerning publication of  the new identity of Jon Venables and the location where Venables was living before his return to custody. The Judgment has been placed on the judiciary website together with the revised contra mundum injunction.

The Judgment throws light on a number of the events in the last few months and on the recent rulings.  On 21 June 2010 the judge extended  temporarily the exiting Butler Sloss contra mundem injuntion, in order to include the following ;

“such information as is likely to lead to the identification of (a) the first claimant’s [ie Venables'] current name, (b) the address at which he was living immediately before his recall to prison in February 2010, (c) the location at which he is currently held in custody or (d) his current appearance.”

Venables applied to renew this provision indefinitely. News Group News Papers and Mirror Group newspapers opposed the  prohibition on publication oif Venables new name. The other media groups were neutral on this issue. Associated, Guardian and Times sought a variation to identify the county in which Venables had lived before his recall. The Judge granted that latter application and stated that the county where Venables lived was Cheshire.
In relation to the identification submission of the Sun and the Mirror, the Judge held that there still convincing evidence of threats to Venables including a facebook site canvassing vigilante action against Venables. Counsel for the Sun and the Daily Mirror argued that public protection and open justice required that Venables was not given protection for his identity. The judge rejected the contention relating to public protection. He held:
“There was no evidence before me in the criminal proceedings that the Claimant had been grooming children for sex or physically abusing them himself. The abused children whose images he downloaded or exchanged with the paedophile Blanchard may have had no connection with the neighbourhood in which the Claimant was living. A measure of public protection is provided, not only by the life licence deriving from the murder conviction, but also by the requirement for the Claimant to notify his identity and whereabouts to the police for ten years for the purposes of what is generally known as the sex offenders register pursuant to the Sexual Offences Act 2003.”
In relation to the open justice argument, the judge said the open justice meant that as soon as Venables indicated his intention to plead guilty, the allowed the fact of his prosecution to be made public and allowed media representatives to be present at the hearing on Friday (albeit that Venables was only visible to he Judge). However, he held that the prohibition on publishing the new name of Venables should continue. as well his location in custody and his appearance.
“There is understandable and legitimate public interest in the fact that one of James Bulger’s killers has now been convicted of child pornography offences. That fact and the details of those offences can now be (and have been since last Friday) freely reported. But there is no legitimate public interest in knowing his appearance, his location in custody; or the exact location at which he was arrested and to which he might return in the event of being released; or, if there is, it is of marginal significance when set against the compelling evidence of a clear and present danger to his physical safety and indeed his life if these facts are made public.”
“As for his new name, my original view was that if he were to be tried and convicted by a jury in that name, it would then inevitably become a matter of public record, and the Claimant would have brought that on himself. But now that he has been convicted on his own pleas of guilty entered in the name of Venables, there is no reason why his new name should be made public. The effect of doing so would simply be to assist those who seek to track him down. The fact of public interest, as I have already said, is that the man formerly known as Jon Venables has been convicted. His new name is entirely immaterial.”
It is imporant to note that the Judge held that he would have reached same decision even if the Human Rights Act had never been enacted.
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1 08 2010
Law and Media Round Up: 1 August 2010 « Inforrm's Blog

[...] of articles about Venables. Blake Morrision also has an opinion piece in the Guardian. We have a post on the Judgment and there is a report on the Press Gazette [...]

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