HM Court & Tribunals Service has made a monumental error that has left journalists and law students alike gasping, wondering how they could make such a schoolboy error.
Medialawblogger’s cat studies court reporting
As every media law or journalism student knows, the victims in cases involving any sort of sexual offences may not be publicly named – even if they are co-defendants, as in the trial of paedophile Ian Watkins, frontman of the Lostprophets. Rumours have been circulating as to the identity of the two co-defendants in this trial – the hapless women who were drawn into Watkins’ horrific world of depravity, lured there by his fame and promises. These women sacrificed the innocence of their own children, to satisfy their own hunger for fame, but even so, they may be victims and, more to the point, their children definitely ARE victims. Naming the women makes known the identity of the children – so-called ‘jigsaw’ identification – and this is strictly prohibited. Breach of this reporting restriction is contempt of court, which makes it all the more astonishing that the party to breach this law is the court!
The daily courtroom lists are published online each day, which is very useful for journalists. But less so when the list mistakenly names the co-defendants/possible victims/victims’ mothers – presumably because the listing officer did not know the details and so assumed that these were ‘ordinary’ defendants who could (and should) be named. A journalist that is not too hot on reporting law may have easily taken a cue from the listing, and published the names of the women.
Strangely, the Attorney General seems to have foreseen that something brown and sticky was going to hit the fan (the air cooling type of fan, that is, though medialawblogger makes no comment about the other sort) and tweeted on the 28th November:
‘We understand that the names of the co-defendants in the Ian Watkins case have been posted online. (½)’
This was followed five minutes later by an explanation….
‘Victims of sex offences have lifetime anonymity. Publication of info which could identify them is a criminal offence & a police matter.’
So just why did the AG feel moved to make those tweets? Because it’s not just journalists that make mistakes. Enter (stage left) Peaches Geldof, who could clearly use some law lessons if she is going to continue to make money writing as a journalist, as she has been doing for several years now. Peaches tweeted the names of the two women, after reading them on an American website (she says). She should know better. Her indiscretion is now being investigated by the police and she could face criminal charges.
Medialawblogger wonders which individual at the court service will be ‘investigated by the police’ and whether any charges will be forthcoming there, too.
In another disturbing twist in this tale, there are two Ian Watkins in show business – this one, and Ian H Watkins, from the pop band ‘Steps’. ‘E’! Online mistakenly published a picture of the latter, when reporting on the story of the paedophile, prompting the distressed Steps star to consult his lawyers. A clear case of defamation, says mediawblogger. Interesting court case, anyone?