Belfast Telegraph

Monday 21 April 2014

Drug lord photo ban a dark day for open justice

The decision by a Crown Court judge yesterday to ban the publication of the address and picture of a drug dealer shows how skewed the legislation on human rights has become.

Judge David McFarland created controversy by ruling that the address or a picture of Ryan Joseph Black, the leader of a gang involved in the transportation and distribution of cannabis and cocaine, could not be published because of concerns that his human rights could be breached.

A member of the Stormont Justice Committee, Jim Wells, no doubt echoed the views of the vast majority of the general public when he said that he was "stunned" by the decision.

The consideration of an individual's human rights is important, but it is also important to judge this against the human rights of others, particularly in the case of a dealer who was earning millions of pounds by peddling death in the form of Class A drugs on our streets.

It is not difficult to understand why ordinary people are claiming that these things are out of balance. They point to the necessity for open justice, and a system where justice is seen to be done in the courts and where criminals are made to feel the full impact of their punishment. Could not every criminal feel that his or her human rights are endangered in some way by full exposure, and if this argument applied, where would it all end?

There is also another important consideration. If the full identity of heinous criminals is protected, this can effectively close down any possibility that they might be identified for other crimes.

For example, a witness or a victim of a crime may well recognise the image of someone responsible for a crime which the police do not yet know about.

It is not easy always to strike the right balance in such legal matters, but most people will feel that the decision yesterday to ban the publication of Black's address and picture was a dark day for open justice.

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