News South Africa

Ilse de Lange
3 minute read
11 Jul 2017
12:14 pm

Anonymity of child victims of crime protected, court rules

Ilse de Lange

The ruling by the judge follows an application by Zephany Nurse and several organisations.

Court-hammer.

The High Court in Pretoria has ruled that the Criminal Procedure Act not only protects child offenders and witnesses from being identified in the media, but also child victims of crime.

The court, however, ruled that this anonymity protection afforded to children under section 154 (3) did not extend to such children once they turned 18.

The ruling by Judge Wendy Hughes follows an application by the Centre for Child Law (CCL), the 20-year-old girl known as Zephany Nurse, Childline, Nicro and Media Monitoring Africa.

The application was opposed by the country’s major media houses.

Zephany became the subject of intense media scrutiny after she was kidnapped from the hospital where she was born but was reunited with her blood family as a teenager. The woman who kidnapped her was prosecuted for abduction.

As a potential witness in the criminal trial, her anonymity was protected, but when the media threatened to publish her name once she turned 18 in April 2015, CCL obtained a court order preventing the media from revealing her identity pending the outcome of their application to extend section 154’s protection to child victims and to offenders, witnesses and victims even after they had turned 18.

Hughes today ruled that the media may still not identify Zephany pending the outcome of any confirmation proceedings, applications for leave to appeal and appeals arising from her judgment.

She found that although children were covered under Section 154 (3), it only related to criminal proceedings.

“In my view, this restriction cannot be used as a blanket clause in other legal insistences, but for criminal proceedings, I find no course to declare Section 154 (3) unconstitutional in the circumstances,” she said.

CCL director Ann Skelton yesterday said they would definitely apply for leave to appeal against the ruling that the law’s protection did not extent to child offenders, witnesses and victims once they had turned 18.

Regarding CCL’s argument that the anonymity right should be extended to children after they turn 18, Hughes said she was of the view that there could not be open-ended protection in favour of children, even into their adulthood.

“This in my view would violate the right of other parties and the other rights of children themselves when they are adults.

“For example, as a child, having been involved in a crime, either as an accused, victim, complainant or witness, as an adult that child might seek to highlight awareness of their experience with others.

“This would not be possible, whether it is to bring awareness to others or purely to highlight the plight of such experience, as there would be a gag on such publication if the protection is open-ended even into adulthood.

“This would simply amount to stifling the adult’s right of freedom of expression. This in my mind takes away an individual’s right as an adult. This situation results in one right now thumping another,” she said.

She stressed that the real purpose of Section 154 was the regulation of publications in criminal proceedings and its purpose was to protect the child and only the child and not adults, as sought by the applicants.

“… I take cognizance of the fact that in certain instances the extension would work in favour of some rights, like the right to privacy, whilst working against others, like the right to freedom of expression.

“In this instance I am not convinced that the extension sought is permissible nor required by our constitution,” she said.