What about the child? Preventing the publication of children's names after the age of 18

31 Mar 2022

Children are afforded a number of different protections when they encounter the criminal justice system. The need for special protection stems from the vulnerable position they occupy in society. When children form part of the criminal justice system by being an offender, a victim or a witness they may be subjected to harm. To mitigate against the potential harm that may be caused, our law provides that criminal proceedings involving children should not be open to the public, subject to the discretion of the court. This protection naturally seems at odds with the principle of open justice. However, the courts have reconciled the limitation with the legal purpose it serves. For all the protection the law offers and the lengths that it goes to in order to protect the identity of children in this regard, it appears there is an unofficial timer dictating when this protection should end. The media have been at the forefront of this conundrum to the extent that they believe that once a child (an offender, victim, or witness) turns 18 they are free to reveal the child's identity. This belief, grounded in the right to freedom of expression and the principle of open justice, is at odds with the principle of a child's best interests, the right to dignity and the right to privacy. It also stares incredulously in the face of the aims of the Child Justice Act and the principles of restorative justice. In the context of the detrimental psychological effects experienced by child victims, witnesses, and offenders, this article aims to critically analyse the legal and practical implications of revealing the identity of child victims, witnesses, and offenders after they have turned 18.