WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
July 13 2024
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
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Holyrood considers criminal sanctions for naming child victims

Holyrood considers criminal sanctions for naming child victims

A law granting automatic anonymity for child homicide victims has been proposed in a consultation by the Scottish Government.

The consultation, launched on 9 July 2024, focuses on the effects of media reporting in child homicide cases. Currently, there are reporting restrictions around any case involving a child as a victim, defendant, or witness. However, the law is interpreted to only apply to living children.

Families in the consultation have spoken about the trauma of having their child’s death scrutinised in the news, sometimes in hyperbolic or excessively detailed ways. Such reporting could also compromise the anonymity of the child’s surviving family members.

According to a report published alongside the consultation, different legislative solutions have been put forth including: automatic anonymity with no option to waive; and automatic anonymity with the option to apply for a waiver from the court.

When discussing potential sanctions, the report said it ‘may be helpful to consider’ current examples of punishments for contempt of court: these range up to a sentence of 3 months’ imprisonment and a fine up to £2,500.

The proposed measures would protect some families from unwanted publicity after their child’s death. They would also prevent situations where families are deterred from attending court proceedings because of media attention. Under these laws, families could be empowered to choose when their child’s name is released.

These must be balanced against the freedom of the press and the tradition of open justice. It has been pointed out that the National Union of Journalists already adopts a code of conduct requiring that reporters do “nothing to intrude into anyone’s private life, grief or distress unless justified by overriding consideration of the public interest.”

There is also concern that families may have to go through an arduous or expensive process of applying for a court order before publicly discussing their bereavement.

It is unclear how the law would apply to social media, for example where parents and friends circulate messages about the deceased.

The consultation will run for 12 weeks until 1 October 2024.

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