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  5. Controversial Children Bill reporting ban proposal to be withdrawn

The Scottish Government has decided to withdraw controversial sections of the Children (Care and Justice) Bill which sought to prohibit the identification of anyone under 18 involved in crimes or court cases.

Sections 12 and 13 of the bill would make identification of under-18 witnesses, victims or perpetrators a criminal offence, punishable by up to two years imprisonment, and both Newsbrands Scotland and the Scottish Media Lawyers Society had pointed out both how difficult this could make reporting incidents like the Dunblane Primary school shootings, but also that there had been no consultation with media organisations most directly affected by the proposed new law.

The legislation cleared Stage Two after consideration by MSPs at the Education Committee, and is set to go through the final stage before becoming an act in the next few weeks. But just before Easter the Minister for Children and Young People, Natalie Don (above), wrote to the Scottish Parliament’s education committee to confirm the withdrawal or the two problem sections.

“It is clear from the correspondence I have received and conversations I have had that the full implications of these matters were not fully appreciated by stakeholders and Members at that stage,” wrote Ms Don.

“I have always been clear that we want this legislation to be fully considered and informed by a broad range of views from those whom the provisions effect. In addition, the Scottish Government fully recognises the key role that an open media plays in a functioning democracy.”

Ms Don will table amendments withdrawing the sections when the bill is presented at Stage Three, and the provisions will form part of a wider consultation on anonymity for deceased children.

Newsbrands Scotland director John McLellan said, “The absence of any approach to media organisations during the consultation on this legislation was a matter of great surprise and concern to us, but we are obviously relieved the minster has recognised both our concerns about the impact of the proposed law on reporters and reporting, but also the flaws in the consultation process.

“However, we recognise that the proposals have only been withdrawn for now, and we have grave concerns about the possibility of introducing anonymity for deceased children which has already proved unworkable in Ireland and Australia. It potentially criminalises not just reporters but grieving relatives as well and has serious implications for Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Ms Don’s letter to Education Committee Convener Sue Webber MSP can be read here.