RTÉ application to lift order banning naming of child murderer adjourned

Judge puts matter to Monday out of ‘abundance of caution’, court told

Order remains in place despite the coming into force  of an amendment to a controversial section of the Children Act. File photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

Order remains in place despite the coming into force of an amendment to a controversial section of the Children Act. File photograph: Chris Maddaloni/Collins

 

An application by RTÉ to lift a court order which prevents a convicted child murderer and his victim from being publicly identified has been adjourned.

The order remains in place despite the coming into force on Friday of an amendment to a controversial section of the Children Act.

Mr Justice Paul Coffey said notwithstanding the fact that the matter was “irresistible” and the law had changed, he would put the matter back until Monday “out of an abundance of caution” so the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) can be represented by counsel and lawyers for an accused can take instructions.

The Children (Amendment) Act 2021 was signed into law last week by President Michael D Higgins after passing in the Dáil and the Seanad.

Last January, a 28-year-old man had his name anonymised at the Central Criminal Court due to an order based on a recent Court of Appeal ruling on the interpretation of Section 252 of the Children Act. The man, who could not be named at the time to protect the identity of the deceased child, admitted murdering his 11-year-old nephew in the south-west of the country on November 3rd, 2019. The sentence hearing was told that the man struck the boy with a hammer and stabbed him 27 times in the torso, arms and neck. The court heard that the boy’s mother believed his uncle was “obsessed” with her son.

At the time of the accused’s arraignment, prosecution counsel Michael Delaney SC told Mr Justice Michael White that there was a certain “family relationship” between the accused and deceased and as a result the accused man could not be named in the context of the location of the offence.

Mr Justice White ruled that the identity of the child and the accused were not to be disclosed to the public until further order of the court as the victim was a child and there was “a clear relationship” between the accused man and the deceased.

Speaking outside the court after the accused was sentenced to the mandatory term of life imprisonment, the grieving mother called on the Minister for Justice Helen McEntee to change Section 252 of the Children Act which prevented child murder victims from being identified. Mr Justice George Birmingham, ruling at the Court of Appeal last October, said that the language in Section 252 of the Act was “clear and unequivocal” and that if it were to be changed it would be a decision for the Oireachtas.

Section 252 of the Children Act, 2001 prohibited the identification of child victims and made it an offence to publish anything that could identify a child who is an alleged victim of an offence, including a deceased child.

The loophole in the law was rectified by the Oireachtas last month, when the Dáil amended the section of the Children’s Act which had stopped grieving parents and families from speaking publicly about their child in cases of unlawful killing.

At a brief hearing on Friday, Tom Murphy BL for RTÉ, told Mr Justice Coffey that the national broadcaster had instructed him to seek the leave of the court to get the restriction lifted in regards to the naming of the child and the accused in the case. Mr Murphy said that the law had now effectively changed and Section 252 of the Children Act had been amended so it no longer applied to proceedings affecting the death of a child except for certain circumstances. He said his application to the court was to lift the order, which had been implemented by Mr Justice White.

On Thursday, Mr Justice Paul McDermott told Mr Murphy that he did not see any difficulty in lifting the court order once the law was changed but would prefer that parties in the case such as the State and the accused were put on notice should they have submissions to make to the court and for their views to be ascertained before the order was lifted.

Mr Murphy told Mr Justice Coffey on Friday that Yvonne Quinn BL, representing the accused, was in court and he had not been notified of any objection from the DPP or the defendant in the case.

Ms Quinn told the judge that they had been put on notice of Friday’s application and whilst they had reviewed the amendment and could not see any legal objection to it, she did not have formal instructions to consent to the matter as her client was in custody.

A State solicitor, for the DPP, said senior counsel was not in a position to be in court this morning and requested that the matter be put back until Monday.

Mr Justice Coffey said it appeared that the matter was “irresistible” and the law had changed. In reply, the State solicitor said that someone from the Director’s office should be in attendance in the circumstances.

Mr Murphy said he did not know of any circumstances where the order could be resisted and indicated that there would be a number of these orders down the line.

Mr Justice Coffey said as it was the first application of its kind he would put the matter back to Monday “out of an abundance of caution” so that the DPP could be represented by counsel and lawyers for the accused could take instructions. The judge apologised to Mr Murphy for the inconvenience of having to come to court for a third time on Monday and said that he would revisit the matter then.