Something that may have gone unnoticed is that the Government has undertaken a review of the youth justice system. This review by Charlie Taylor has been published last month and amongst many things it seems to suggest the following:
“Once the child turns 18 years of age they may once again be reported, which risks undermining their rehabilitation as their identity could be established on the internet even though a conviction may have become spent for criminal records purposes”.
The issue of anonymity both for children and adults is a matter of great importance for different reasons to various groups who operate to advise the Government about criminal justice policy.
Throughout my career the press have felt it their duty to be able to report the most serious crimes in the youth court and to try and ensure that the children are identified. Youth courts have taken a view in respect of that and generally protected the anonymity of children during the course of proceedings.
The question as to what happens after a child is convicted and lifelong anonymity is a matter that is bound to prompt different opinions.
It seems as though there is a body of opinion that suggests in the most heinous cases, such as the James Bulger murder, that the public have a right to know the identities of the youths involved in that. In many ways that it would be an insult to the memory of the victims of such serious crimes for the youths involved in that they have their anonymity protected. I completely understand the outpouring of grief by family, friends and a community in such a notorious case.
However if it is perceived by those professional people who are charged with the supervision of children who have become adults in custody upon their release their wishes should be listened to if the management of the person upon release is going to be adversely affected by the members of the public in the community where they are placed being aware of their identity. Upon release from a custodial sentence, which inevitably in such cases has to happen, we are dealing with the safety and security of those supervising and ensuring that there is sufficient freedom in their discretion to make sure that the public are protected and also that those convicted and who have served their sentence are protected as well.
It is going to be impossible to achieve a balance between victim’s rights and the needs of those released from serving prison sentences for serious crimes. One hopes that a prison sentence will in and of itself rehabilitate people in its own right. However what is often forgotten is the level of supervision that is required when a person is released on a licence. It is at that time that re-integration into a community is at its most difficult and the granting of lifelong anonymity in this case is not to support the criminals convicted of such serious crimes, it is intended to support those charged with their re-integration into the community, which cannot be done if there is any possibility of the public taking the law into their own hands, which is something to be avoided.
The Ministry of Justice wish to engage with interested parties of which the media are included. I hope that the wishes of the media, who have not always acted responsibly with information or what they consider the public’s hunger for information is realised, the bigger picture in this matter and the protection of those supporting released prisoners and their ability to do their job is made much harder as a result of child defendants being named.
If one puts it in terms of risk v. reward, child criminals provided with anonymity there is no risk as a result of their names being anonymous for life. The people who need to know who they are, are those supervising them within the community and if they are able to do their job properly the reward is no more offending, and that analysis it seems very obvious which way we should go in respect of this. However successive governments have been frightened by the power of the media so it will be interesting to see what happens with this recommendation.