Change in law allows for identification of deceased children by media in certain cases
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The Children (Amendment) Act 2020 (“the Act”) was signed into law earlier this month. It comes after parents of child murder victims and media organisations had campaigned to change the law after a controversial ruling at the Court of Appeal last October. The Act amends the Children Act 2001 and permits details in relation to the identity of a child who has been unlawfully killed to be published.
Amendments as regards deceased child victims
After last October's ruling by the Court of Appeal, child murder victims could not be named in the media, even in coverage of their funerals, where a person was before the court on charges of having killed them. The Court of Appeal also held that if naming the accused person may lead to the identity of the deceased child, the accused should also remain anonymous. The decision turned on s.252 of the Children Act 2001, which served the purpose of protecting the child’s identity which the court could only dispense of, “if it is satisfied that it is appropriate to do so in the interests of the child”. This Court of Appeal ruling marked a significant departure from established media reporting practices and created a situation where families of a deceased child were effectively silenced by the legislation.
The Act will, as noted by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee, “remove the restrictions on reporting the identities of deceased children with respect to past and future cases, while maintaining the protection for living children”.
Amendment relating to child victims who turn 18
While much of the focus in relation to the Act has been on deceased child victims, the Court of Appeal ruling had also prevented the identification of child victims who had turned 18. This led to a situation where such victims, who may have long entered adulthood could not be identified even where they wished to be, unless the court specifically permitted such identification. The Act now provides that such adult “former child victims” can be identified where the victim has turned 18 before the date on which the criminal proceedings commence.
The Act, most importantly, allows for the deceased child’s name and legacy to be remembered and as Minister McEntee said, “Will give back the parents their voice so they can speak publicly about how they want their children to be remembered”.
The Act did not overturn court decisions made since the Court of Appeal ruling and if the media wish to identify child victims in such cases application needs to be made to the court or else the media would be in breach of a court order. This has already happened in the case of Brooklyn Colbert who was murdered by his uncle, Patrick Dillon in Limerick in November, 2019. On foot of an application by RTE on 10 May Judge Paul Coffey in the High Court set aside a previous order to prevent the naming of the victim and murderer in the case. Other similar applications are being contemplated by the media.