In a landmark ruling Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, delivering judgment on behalf of the three-judge court, has ruled that children before the courts for a criminal offence can be identified by the media once they turn 18 even when convicted as a minor, if court proceedings are still ongoing.
The decision was delivered in the context of an appeal brought by the defendant who was found guilty of murdering Cameron Blair by stabbing him in the neck at a house party on Bandon Road, in Cork City on 16 January 2020. The then teenager, who was 17 at the time of conviction and thus was provided with anonymity throughout his initial hearing and sentencing, was sentenced to life in detention at Oberstown Children Detention campus and was moved to an adult prison once he had turned 18 years old. The defendant is now 21 years old.
Law in the area
Section 93 of the Children Act 2001 provides for “Restrictions on reports of proceedings in which children are concerned”. S.93 had previously been interpreted to mean that child anonymity still applied when the accused appeared before an appellate court even if they had reached the age of 18 since conviction.
In her judgment however Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy has now held that no provision of the Children Act “provides for an extension of reporting restrictions and anonymity to those who age out before proceedings conclude. Reporting restrictions are expressly limited to those under the age of 18 years. This would allow the identity of Cameron Blair’s murderer to be made public.
Later in her judgment Ms Justice Kennedy, referenced a child who turned 18, or “aged out”, in the middle of proceedings. She stated “The Act does not provide that a person in that position continues to benefit from the safeguards under the Act. In the same way, the Act does not provide for the safeguards to continue should a child offender age out in the period between conviction/sentence and appeal."
Despite the landmark decision of Ms Justice Kennedy, Mr Justice George Birmingham told both legal teams that he would put a stay on the lifting of the reporting restrictions surrounding the boy’s name to allow a potential appeal to the Supreme Court. He asked however for the lawyers representing the defendant to indicate if they did not wish to appeal the ruling. At the time of writing it is not clear if a decision has been made by the defendant’s legal team as to whether or not they will appeal to the Supreme Court.
One of the most high-profile recent criminal cases was the murder trial of Ana Kriégel. The two boys convicted of the murder, known only as boy A and boy B, were only 13 years old when they murdered 14-year-old Ana. Both boy A and boy B will come before the courts in the upcoming years when their sentences come up for review. After the recent decision of Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy some media outlets speculated whether they will be able to name the two boys, now that they have turned 18, once their sentences come up for review. However, even if the Court of Appeal decision had some bearing on the identification of the two convicted persons in the Kriégel case, Mr Justice Paul McDermott, who presided over their trial, made an order preserving their anonymity and currently that order would have to be lifted before either accused could be identified.
Areas where anonymity is preserved
It is important to note however that there are still circumstances where convicted persons who have “aged out” in the course of proceedings can have their identity protected. Under Irish law those accused of rape, incest or defilement can only be identified publicly if they are convicted, if identifying the accused does not identify the victim or if the victim waives their right to anonymity, and if the trial judge does not impose a reporting restriction preserving the anonymity of the accused. This is to protect the identity of the victim, as releasing the identity of the convicted person could have the knock-on effect of identifying the victim.
Prior to this decision, the law had been clear that where a minor defendant in a criminal case had “aged out” before conviction, that they could be identified upon conviction save for the limited scenarios mentioned above as regards sexual offences or where a restriction was imposed by the court. The law was not, however, clear in a situation where the accused was convicted as a minor but had appealed sentencing and that appeal was ongoing after the convicted person had “aged out”. The Court of Appeal has, pending any possible appeal to the Supreme Court, now clarified that such a defendant can be identified by the media and others.