The Children (Amendment) Act 2021 (the "Act") has been commenced, by way of the Children (Amendment) Act 2021 (Commencement) Order 2021, with effect from 7 May 2021.
The Act was introduced to correct an anomaly created by section 252 of the Children Act 2001, which imposes mandatory reporting restrictions on trials relating to an offence committed against a child, or to which a child is a witness, in order to protect their identity. The courts' interpretation of that provision, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal in D.P.P. and E.C. v. The Irish Times & Others [2020 IECA 292], was not only that the provisions applied in circumstances where the child was deceased or where they had reached the age of 18 prior to the commencement of proceedings, but that the identity of the person accused of perpetrating the crime was also prohibited from being reported if it would reveal the identity of the child. Further analysis of the impact of the above case can be read in our previous briefing here.
The Act inserts new subsections into section 252 of the Children Act 2001, which provide, inter alia, that the prohibition on reporting will not apply where the proceedings relate to the death of the child or where the reporting relates to a child who has reached the age of 18 before the date of the proceedings, unless to do so would contravene the section insofar as it relates to another child who is alive. The court is given discretion to continue to apply the prohibition if to dis-apply it would not be in the best interests of another child who is alive. The court may also dis-apply the prohibition where the proceedings do not relate to the death of a child; the court is satisfied that lifting the prohibition is in the best interests of the child; and to do so would not be contrary to the best interests of another child who is alive. Interestingly, the amendments have been given retrospective effect and will apply to proceedings which began before the new law was commenced.
The Act is a welcome remedy for the serious and presumably unintended consequences of the original wording of section 252 of the Children Act 2001. The new provisions will allow the media to report more freely on court proceedings in the public interest, which is all the more important in the current circumstances where public access to the administration of justice has been limited by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.