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Child offenders need lifetime anonymity, says review

Child criminals should be given life-long anonymity, a government-commissioned review has recommended.

Ministers are considering introducing a law to indefinitely ban the media from identifying young offenders.

Currently, anonymity granted to under-18s by the youth or crown courts in England and Wales expire when they become adults.

The Ministry of Justice said it will discuss the proposals “with interested parties”.

If such a law had been in place when Robert Thompson and Jon Venables murdered two-year-old James Bulger, the public would never have known their identities.

The recommendations are part of a review into the youth justice system in England and Wales by child behavioural expert, Charlie Taylor, to reduce reoffending.

The report states that 69% of children sentenced to custody go on to reoffend within a year.

Mr Taylor says the current system “must evolve to respond… to the challenges of today”.

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Jon Venables and Robert Thompson mugshotsImage copyrightPA
Image captionJon Venables (left) and Robert Thompson (both aged 10 at time of these photos) tortured and killed two-year-old James Bulger

Under current legislation, child suspects are granted automatic anonymity in the youth courts and are routinely granted the same if they appear at crown court aside from exceptional circumstances.

But once a child turns 18, their name can be reported.

The report says this “risks undermining their rehabilitation as their identity could be established on the internet even though a conviction may have become spent for criminal records purposes”.

Instead, Mr Taylor recommends automatic anonymity should also be granted in the crown court and the reporting restrictions should last the lifetime of young defendants.

‘A step too far’

The Just for Kids Law charity welcomed the recommendation, saying: “Being named and shamed for what they have done or accused of doing prevents them ever being able to move on.”

But the Conservative MP for Kettering, Philip Hollobone, told the Times “the public has a right to know” the identities of those convicted for serious offences.

Bob Satchwell, executive director of the Society of Editors, also hit out at the proposal, telling the Times: “The idea of a blanket ban would be against any concept of open justice and the public’s right to know and is a step too far.”

The Ministry of Justice has said it would “discuss these proposals with interested parties, including the Home Office, media and youth justice interest groups in order to better understand the case for change and consider the appropriate way forward.”

Earlier his month, Justice Secretary Liz Truss announced two new “secure schools” for teenage offenders.

The schools – which were among Mr Taylor’s recommendations – will focus on maths and English and will also provide apprenticeships.

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