Anonymity of deceased children in criminal proceedings must be upheld – COA

Bloomsbury Professional, 07 November 2020

November 16, 2020

In the recent case of C v DPP [2020] IECA 292, the Court of Appeal has held that s 252 of the Children Act 2001 – which protects the anonymity of children in court proceedings – shall extend to cases where the child is deceased. 

Here, it was alleged that the respondent, known as Ms C, had suffocated her three-year old daughter. While general responsibility was accepted for the death, the respondent pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. These proceedings commenced in October 2019.

The present case pertains to the challenging by media outlets of an order made by White J, preventing the identification of the deceased child in the above criminal proceedings. Counsel for the media submitted that as s 252 was designed to help protect children in circumstances where they may be called as a witness, for this reason it should only apply where the child is still alive – notwithstanding the fact that the section was silent as to this issue. The contention of counsel was that a ‘reasonable reading’ of the section would lead one to believe that it was designed to protect living children only. This had been rejected at the High Court, with Stewart J further commenting that it was not in conflict with the constitutional imperative relating to the public administration of justice.

The present case turned ‘almost entirely’ on the correct interpretation of s 252 of the Children Act 2001, which effectively prohibits the identification of children ‘in relation to any proceedings for an offence against a child or where a child is a witness in any such proceedings.’ The learned judge also refused to allow reliance on HSE v McAnaspie (Deceased) [2012] IR 548, noting that it was ‘of little relevance’ as a statutory definition had been provided in the 2001 Act. Counsel for the media also argued that the order now only really serves to protect the anonymity of Ms C, and this is in conflict with the Act’s aim of protecting child victims from further victimisation.

As per Mr Justice Birmingham at para 13:

‘It is so clear as to be beyond argument that the Court proceedings involving Ms C were Court proceedings in respect of an offence against a child. In my view, it is not possible to interpret this section as not including a deceased person who was a child at the time of death. Neither, in my view, is it possible to exclude proceedings relating to offences committed against a child, if they come on for hearing after the child has attained his or her majority.’

It was held that the interpretation of the High Court was correct, and the appeal was dismissed.

Please note this is intended to be a fair and accurate report of a judgment made public by a court of law. If any errors are discovered, please notify the editor and they will be dealt with accordingly. For further reading on media law and court reporting, see Media Law in Ireland (2nd edn, 2019). For further reading on aspects of criminal procedure generally, see Charleton and McDermott's Criminal Law and Evidence (2nd edn, 2020).