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Northern Ireland schoolboy arrested in TalkTalk probe loses legal challenge over identification

By Alan Erwin

A Co Antrim schoolboy arrested over the TalkTalk cyber attack has lost his High Court challenge to an alleged failure to implement legislation that would protect him from media identification.

The 15-year-old took action against the Department of Justice over claims it has done nothing about a law prohibiting the press from naming juveniles suspected of crimes before they are charged.

His lawyers argued that the situation breached his right to privacy.

But a judge dismissed his case on Wednesday after ruling that the Department cannot be compelled to legislate on the issue.

It is the second set of proceedings issued by the teenager since he was detained last year by police investigating a major hack into the phone and broadband provider's database.

He is also continuing to sue three national newspapers for allegedly revealing his identity.

The boy was interviewed by PSNI detectives as a cyber-crime suspect in October 2015, but was released on bail without charge.

Under the terms of the 1999 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act no-one under 18 allegedly involved in an offence can be named in press reports.

Although that law applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, lawyers for the teenager claimed Stormont's continued failure to commence the Act has impacted on his privacy entitlements protected by Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

They claim it was irrational to be denied the same protection given to minors once they are charged with an offence.

The legal loophole enabled his details and photograph to feature amid widespread newspaper and online publicity, according to their case.

They argued that a ban on publishing the youth's identity secured in the separate, ongoing litigation was not enough.

Counsel for the department responded that the teenager can sue for damages over any alleged breach of privacy.

He also submitted that there has been no public clamour to commence the relevant section of the Act since justice powers were devolved to Stormont.

The current press regulatory scheme includes a right to complain about any breach of the editor's code, the court heard.

Ruling on the case today, Mr Justice Colton noted the Executive has decided legislation is currently not necessary.

Protection is provided through an independent press code of practice and the ability to sue for misuse of private information, he pointed out.

Finding now basis for any unlawful act by the department, the judge said: "The respondent cannot be compelled to legislate on this matter.

"Given the wide margin of appreciation available to the state there is no basis for a finding that the measures in place amount to a breach of any positive obligation imposed under Article 8 or in domestic law."

Mr Justice Colton added: "This application has raised important public issues and it is hoped that this matter will b kept under review by the respondent."

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