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Reporting of personal information of defendants in criminal cases: an overview

By Lexie Kirkconnell-Kawana, Head of Regulation at IMPRESS.

When the media report personal information about you it can be embarrassing, hurtful and potentially harmful to you and your family, particularly given the speed with which news travels on social media.  Understandably, those affected want to understand their legal rights and what they can do to protect their privacy.

In this piece, our Head of Regulation reflects on the tensions this can create; what the law says; how the law has been informed by a recent judgment; and the responsibilities and rights of publishers and the public.

Finding one’s personal information has been printed by the press can be shocking or upsetting. At IMPRESS, we often receive enquiries when a person and/or their relatives or close friends find out that their address has been printed in a local newspaper or on a news website, as part of the coverage of a criminal conviction.

Where does the law stand?

A recent Court of Appeal judgment affirmed the position that it is a necessary requirement of open justice for the media to report the address of a person who has received a criminal conviction, unless there are reporting restrictions in place.

The Court set out that, as a starting point, the name and address of that person may be reported. It is for the person seeking a restriction on what information can be made public to make the case to the Court that restrictions are justified. Only in the most exceptional cases will a reporting restriction be granted by a Court.

This means that if there are no reporting restrictions and a final judgment has been issued, it is standard practice for a defendant's name and address to be made available to the public and to reporters.

Why is this the court’s position?

In the case of Khuja v Times Newspapers Ltd (2019), Lord Sumption explains the reasoning behind the competing interests of the defendant’s right to privacy and open justice:

“Ordinarily, the collateral impact of publicity for the trial process is part of the price to be paid for open justice and the freedom of the press to report fairly and accurately on judicial proceedings held in public”.

Further, Home Office circular 78 (1967) acknowledges that a person’s address can be as much a part of describing who they are as their name. It states that there is therefore a strong public interest in facilitating press reports that correctly describe persons involved.  This helps to avoid inadvertent defamation of anyone locally that bears the same name.

Privacy in the IMPRESS Standards Code

Publishers regulated by IMPRESS are required to not only meet minimum thresholds set out in the law, but also to apply additional ethical practices to their reporting. The IMPRESS Standards Code, which they all adopt, includes a clause on privacy, which requires publishers to take all reasonable steps not to exacerbate grief or distress through intrusive newsgathering or reporting.

Member of the public? 

How to proceed if you would like a publisher to remove printed personal information:  

Complaints should start from the position that it is entirely lawful and indeed good journalistic practice for a publisher to accurately identify an individual who has been convicted of a criminal offence. The quickest solution is to contact the publisher directly and explain your specific circumstances. Since all IMPRESS-regulated publishers are required to have transparent internal complaints handling systems, we expect them to deal with these types of complaints swiftly and treat you (the complainants) fairly.

However, if left unsatisfied with the publisher’s response,  anyone can make a complainant to IMPRESS, and make the case that the reporting amounts to intrusion if they can demonstrate it has caused or is likely to cause harm, as expressed under the Privacy clause of our Standards Code. To learn about how to raise a complaint with IMPRESS, visit our website.

You can also read our FAQs for the public on reporting personal information of defendants in criminal cases.

 

Further resources on media reporting and the criminal courts: