A High Court Judge has issued a lifelong reporting restriction order for a victim of child sexual exploitation.
The case concerned a vulnerable 17 year-old referred to in court as ‘AB’. The teenager had fallen victim to exploitation by a group of older men in Birmingham. In a ruling last year, Mr Justice Keehan granted the local authority an order allowing them to place her in secure accommodation to keep her out of harm’s way and help the girl to understand the risks posed by the men in question.
There was insufficient evidence for a criminal conviction against the men so the local authority successfully applied for civil injunctions against them instead, forbidding them from contacting AB or associating with women under the age of 18 not already known to them.
As the men had not been given a criminal conviction, however, the girl did not receive automatic lifelong anonymity. A reporting restriction order was granted, prohibiting the media from publishing any material that might lead to her identification. The Judge decided to postpone a final decision regarding the duration of the order until this year, when she turns 18.
At the new hearing, AB herself and the local authority both pressed for a lifelong extension of the reporting restriction, while the Press Association and the Times opposed this.
Mr Justice Keehan noted that the case involved a clash between two different articles set out in the European Convention on Human Rights. Under Article 8, AB was entitled to respect for her privacy and family life, while under Article 10, the media organisations were entitled to freedom of expression. In addition, the relevant legal precedents clearly established that lifelong reporting restrictions could only be granted in exceptional circumstances.
AB’s social worker and a psychologist both reported that she was still in a vulnerable state and suffered from anxiety about the media and possible identification. Continuing stress could affect both the girl’s behaviour in the secure accommodation unit and her pregnancy, they argued. They also raised the possibility that other victims of sexual exploitation might be dissuaded from seeking help if AB was identified after she turned 18.
The Judge concluded that there was no public interest in identifying the teenager and solid reasons why her background should be kept private.
The full judgement, Birmingham City Council and Safraz Riaz and others, is available here.