Identity of children who are victims, accused or witnesses of crimes can't be published, even after they turn 18 - ConCourt

The Constitutional Court has ruled that the media is not allowed to publish the identity of children who are victims, the accused or witnesses in criminal proceedings, even after they reach the age of 18.  

The apex court said that if child victims, child accused and witnesses give consent or approach a court when they turn 18 then their identity could be published.  

READ | 'It is harmful to identify child victims', ConCourt hears

The court also declared Section 154 (3) of the Criminal Procedure Act unconstitutionally invalid, as the provision did not protect the identify of child victims of crimes in criminal proceedings.

The section only provided protection for child accused and witnesses but not victims.  

"Therefore, there is indeed a lacuna in the law as it pertains to protecting the identify of child victims in criminal proceedings. There is limited available recourse for child victims to seek anonymity protection," the court said.

Two applications

READ | Court dismisses application to prevent naming children in cases after they turn 18

The court gave Parliament 24 months to amend the section. 

There were two applications before the Constitutional Court - an application or confirmation of part of an order which was handed down by the Supreme Court of Appeal.

The order declared Section 154 (3) to be constitutionally invalid, to the extent that the provisions do not protect the identity of child victims in criminal proceedings.

A second application for leave to appeal against the second part of the SCA order which held that Section 154 (3) is constitutionally valid, even though it does not ensure ongoing anonymity of child accused persons, victims and witnesses once they turn 18.

The court case stems from the Zephany Nurse kidnapping matter which was heard in 2016.

The case was brought by the Centre for Child Law (CCL), Childline, Nicro, Media Monitoring Africa, and Nurse who is referred to as KL in the court papers.

The respondents are 12 media houses, including Media24.

The application to prevent the naming of child victims, witnesses and offenders after they turn 18 was first dismissed in the Gauteng High Court in Pretoria.

The applicants then appealed to the SCA.

In its ruling, the SCA then ruled that media houses may continue to name children involved in criminal cases after they turn 18 and "become adults", whether they be victims, witnesses or offenders.

News24 previously reported that, while the court had turned down the CCL's bid to extend identity protection beyond the age of 18 - it had granted protection to child victims of crime and child witnesses.

The SCA ordered that the legislature make the necessary amendments to the Criminal Procedure Act but, in the meantime, has "written" in the prohibition into the relevant clause.

Reacting to the ruling, in a joint statement, Media24 CEO Ishmet Davidson, the editors of News24, Netwerk24, City Press, Rapport and Daily Sun said they were disappointed by the judgment but would study it thoroughly in order to fully take stock of the impact this will have on their ability to serve the public with news coverage which is accurate, fair and complete.

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