Belfast Telegraph

Top media lawyer backs our bid to overturn 'no name' order

By Chris Kilpatrick

A court ruling on whether a woman suspected of murdering her baby can be publicly identified is at the heart of judicial openness and transparency, a leading media lawyer has said.

A judge is set to decide on a move by the Belfast Telegraph to overturn a court order preventing this newspaper naming the alleged killer. The 30-year-old was charged by detectives investigating the child's death in March.

While her identity is known to this paper, reporting restrictions imposed on the case prevent us from publishing details about her. As it stands, it also stops the child being named publicly.

Lawyers for the woman obtained the restrictions by arguing that publishing her identity could put her life in jeopardy by increasing her risk of suicide.

A media law expert last night said the move by this newspaper to overturn the order was correct, arguing that openness and transparency lie at the heart of the justice system. The baby was injured in an incident in east Belfast in March, and despite being rushed to hospital where it received extensive treatment, the child died from its injuries.

“Each case will be different,” said media lawyer Tony Jaffa.

“It’s very rare for cases in their entirety not to be reported.

“Judges are always cautious when it comes to people’s health, people’s well-being.

“I can see why the judge may have been willing to grant the order in this case. But there is a balance to be struck.”

He added: “The principle of

open justice has been part of the law for at least a century. In all the years since then that principle has been repeated again and again.”

The woman was detained under the Mental Health Act following her arrest. She is currently receiving intense medical treatment and is under constant supervision. Her lawyers submitted that if the media revealed her identity it would increase the risk of suicide. A doctor overseeing the woman's treatment last month told a court hearing she required intensive medical care and was set to be moved to a more secure facility.

In April a defence lawyer successfully requested the order banning the public from knowing the murder suspect’s name. No media representatives were present in court at the time to challenge the application.

However, it was later confirmed the prohibition was granted under the terms of the Human Rights Act.

Last week the judge was handed written submissions on behalf of this newspaper as to why the application for the reversal of that order was being made. District Judge Fiona Bagnall is due to rule on the application tomorrow.

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