Publishing addresses of police officer defendents – a little help from the High Court

When a police officer is in the dock, you can practically bet your house on an attempt by their brief to get the accused's name/address/case details concealed. So anyone who has fumed from the press bench and attempted to catch the clerk's eye to lodge a protest as lawyers representing serving police officers try to stop public information being reported, will probably rejoice at this precedent-setting decision made by the High Court.

Media Lawyer reports on the case of two senior police officers, who were facing trial on criminal charges, and made a failed attempt to overturn a decision by magistrates that their addresses should be given in open court and published.

Surrey Police Chief Superintendent Adrian Harper, Divisional Commander for East Surrey, and Superintendent Jonathan Johncox, of the West Surrey division, sought an order under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981 for their home addresses to be withheld from the public, and for the media to be banned from reporting them, when they appeared before magistrates at Aldershot in August last year on charges connected of misconduct charges relating to alleged speeding offences.

The magistrates refused to make the order, and the men's addresses were read out in open court. But on the evening of the hearing the two officers obtained a temporary injunction from Mr Justice Jack banning publication of their addresses. They also applied for Judicial Review of the magistrates' decision, and an order continuing the ban imposed by Mr Justice Jack.

But the Administrative Court rejected their application, saying that they had failed to show any justification for interfering with the principle of open justice.

Lord Justice Pill said: “There is, in my judgment, a burden on the claimants to establish not only that the derogation they seek is in the circumstances a very limited one but also that there is a justification in the particular case for interfering at all with the principle of open justice.

“In my judgment, they have failed to do so … If there is a risk, it would not in the circumstances be enhanced by publication of addresses. On the information the claimants give, any approach to them is likely to be a targeted one which would not be deterred by the need to discover a home address.

“While the charges against the claimants are serious they are unlikely to provoke that response by vigilantes which occasionally occurs in some categories of offence, for example, charges involving abuse of young children.

“Moreover, it is inconceivable that these or other police officers would be deterred from performing their duties if it is known that their addresses would be disclosed in circumstances such as the present. I would accept that the proper performance of police duties is, for present purposes, an integral part of the administration of justice but I can see no adverse impact in this case.”

Article 2 of the European Convention on Human Rights was not engaged, he said.

Neither was there any procedural defect in the way in which the magistrates had dealt with the application – the issues were clear, and detailed reasons for their decision were not required, Lord Justice Pill said, adding: “On analysis, I would have found it very surprising if they had reached a different decision.”

Mrs Justice Rafferty agreed. The application for judicial review was refused and the order made by Mr Justice Jack discharged.

* Honourable mention in despatches to Guy Vassall-Adams, of PA, who argued at the hearing that it was for those seeking to defeat or limit the open justice principle to prove the necessity of doing so, and ‘a person's address was an integral part of his identity’.

R (Harper) and R (Johncox) v Aldershot Magistrates Court, with the Press Association, Surrey and Berkshire Media, and the CPS, Hampshire, as interested parties.

Full details from Media Lawyer are here

Posted via email from Alison Gow

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About Alison Gow

I'm a journalist, particularly interested in story-telling, networks and digital innovation.
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