(Family Division, Cobb J, 25 October 2016)
Public law children – Wardship – Child sexual exploitation – Reporting restriction
The wardship injunctions were discharged and reporting restriction orders were granted in respect of the child and the four associated males.
Applications were made by Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council to protect the child, who was in her late teens, from four males believed to be sexually exploiting her. Interim wardship and reporting restriction orders were made.
At the final hearing the local authority, based upon the information disclosed by the police, no longer considered it appropriate to seek injunctions against the four males and sought the discharge of interim injunctions. Having regard to all of the evidence presented the judge was satisfied that the injunctions should be discharged.
In respect of the reporting restriction application, no party asserted that disclosure of the young woman’s name was in the public interest. Despite The Times’ commitment to protecting her identity a reporting restriction order was still needed so that the protection she was entitled to was made clear to all media and other organisations. Furthermore, she had a statutory right to anonymity under s 1 and 2 of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992, given that arrests had been made on suspicion of committing offences under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
There was a significant public interest in the investigation and detection of child sexual exploitation, in the State's protection of its victims, and in the prosecution of those who perpetrate it. Therefore, it was right to hold the final hearing in public, and to name the relevant council.
It was uncontroversial that the child’s identity should be protected now and for the future. She was an extremely vulnerable young person. If the names of the associated males were revealed the child would be quickly identified in the local community in which she lived. That was sufficient on its own to justify the anonymity of the four males. However, there was no true public interest in naming the four associated males, against whom, in the end, no findings had been sought or made. The Art 8 rights of the associated males would be significantly violated were they to be publicly exposed in the media as having been implicated to a greater or lesser degree, but not proved to be engaged, in this type of offending. The reporting restriction orders were granted.