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  5. New restrictions on identifying young people makes court reporting more difficult

Scottish government logo A  significant change in the way Scottish court proceedings are reported comes into action this September with the introduction of measures contained in the 2014 Victims and Witnesses (Scotland) Act.

The new law amends 47 of the Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995 by increasing the restriction on identifying young people in court cases from those under 16 to under 18. From September 1, it will be illegal to publish any detail which could lead to identification of any defendant or witness under 18 unless the court orders the restriction to be lifted.

As the existing legislation specifically prevents naming the witness’s school the new law could easily extend to place of work, college or even university. Consultation for the proposals took place in the autumn of 2012 and the legislation was first put before the Scottish Parliament in February 2013. After the committee stage, it was debated by the full parliament that June and was finally passed in December 2013 although its measures are only coming into force now.

The explanation is  it brings the definition of a child into line with other areas of law and makes coverage of cases involving young people in adult courts consistent with rules for children’s hearings

But means that news organisations will have to be extra vigilant when reporting all court evidence involving young people, especially if any witness is under 18 but has left school. There is no record of formal consultation with news organisations.

SNS director John McLellan said: “Court reporting is already a hazardous exercise and this makes the job of covering criminal cases even more difficult.

“There will be greater risks of inadvertent identification from the reporting of evidence from other witnesses to whom the new legislation does not apply and there is nothing to suggest this was taken into consideration when the changes were voted through.”

The new legislation can be read here.

Section 47 of the 1995 Criminal Procedures (Scotland) Act which it amends can be read here.