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Should a Convicted Murderer Be given Lifelong Anonymity for Security Reasons?

Info: 2273 words (9 pages) Law Essay
Published: 4th Dec 2020

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Should a convicted murderer be given lifelong anonymity for security reasons?


The aim of this report is to investigate whether amendments must be made to the law regarding child killers being given new identities once they have completed their sentence and are released from prison. The legislation regarding lifelong anonymity for child killers was introduced to the UK, for the first time, in the Contempt of Court Act 1981. Section 11 of this Act covers the ‘Publication of matters exempt from disclosure in court.’ This will include a court, with the power to so, withholding a name or personal information from the public. Through this investigation I will be using both primary and secondary sources of information to help me conclude whether amendments must be made to this, or perhaps if there should in fact be a law that allows this at all. This investigation will cover all the effects, both positive and negative, that have been created due to the government granting this piece of legislation and applying it. In order to be able do this, I will be evaluating; legislation that is surrounding this, research past cases in Britain and asses the public/victim/defender’s opinion on the matters. Every piece of research that I will be carrying out will be used for me to conclude on this matter.

What is Lifelong Anonymity?

In the whole of the United Kingdom, there are only 6 individuals who have been granted lifelong anonymity for the horrific crimes that they had committed. Firstly, to grant an anonymity order, means that the information of a specific person cannot be disclosed. Part 3 section 76 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 governs ‘Anonymity in investigations’, and states that this information could be anything; “(a) that identifies the specified person as a person who is or was able or willing to assist a specified qualifying criminal investigation, or (b)that might enable the specified person to be identified as such a person.”[1]

 Section 49 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 prohibits the publication of information on children whether as a victim, witness or defender of a case which means that they are automatically granted anonymity. This anonymity normally ends when the child turns 18 and their identity can then be reported. However, a judge can grant an adult defender anonymity under section 11 of the Contempt of Court Act 1981. This section governs ‘Publication of matters exempted from disclosure in court’ which prevents the criminals name and information being known to the public. Meaning that when a criminal has been granted lifelong anonymity, they are therefore given brand new identities. In theory this implies that these criminals can apply to be given a ‘clean slate’ and have a second chance at life. They are given new identities and moved to a different and secure location to allow them to have a second chance at life.

However, not every murderer in Britain is given lifelong anonymity, as said before there are only 6 individuals that have been granted this also, there are conditions to this legislation that must be met. These conditions are stated in section 78 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. For anyone to have a lifelong anonymity order must firstly apply to the Justice of the Peace – they will then look at the case and determine if the grounds for believing that the conditions in subsections (3) to (8) are satisfied.

Having said that, subsection (10) states that changes may be made to subsections (4) to (6) and (9), although this can only be done by an appropriate authority.

Who has been granted Lifelong Anonymity?

Until The Contempt of Court Act 1981, Section 11, the courts did not have the power to grant this order to be able to protect adults. The first ever person to be allowed this kind of anonymity after committing such notorious crimes as a child, was Mary Bell. She was only 11 years old when she killed two young boys, that were only at the age of 3 and 4 at the time. This was in 1968 when Mary was then convicted of manslaughter. During this trial, Mary was named, and her information was known to the public. That was of course until she was released in 1980 and was given her new identity and anonymity at the age of 23. Within this significant and unique case, it is crucial to know that the Judge had made it very clear to the court that this incidence would not be set as a precedent for any other cases. Meaning that since past cases are normally used as ‘examples’ in the order for the Judge to evaluate the case come to a final decision, this case would be exempt from this rule. Shortly after being released Mary gave birth to her daughter in 1984, it was aware that her child’s anonymity was automatically being protected until she reached the age of 18. This would have been the case if Mary had not won her High Court Battle in May 2003, which resulted in her own anonymity, along with her daughters, being extended to last their entire life. Judge Dame Elizabeth, who was also the president of the High Court’s Family division, explained the grounds that were used to make this decision were due to the “exceptional circumstances” of this case and also that the court had seen both of their lives at a very high level of danger or harm. Dame Elizabeth had also stated that the court granted this to “protect them both from potential vigilantes”.[2]

The legislation that covers the Right for someone to have the respect for a private and family life is governed in Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998. It states that 1. “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence” and 2. “There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democracy society in the interest of public safety…”.[3] This piece of legislation was used in the courts decision to grant lifelong anonymity to both Mary Bell and her daughter.

Among the 5 others; Jon Venables, Robert Thomson, Maxine Carr and ‘The Edlington Brothers’, the case that is most significant and is next going to be discussed is the case of James Bulger. This case will be used to help evaluate the impacts that lifelong anonymity has on both the criminal and the victim’s family. In 1993, Jon Venables and Robert Thomson (both aged 10 when the crime was committed) had horrifically abducted, tortured and killed 2-year-old James Patrick Bulger. During their trial there was an outstanding amount of fury that came from the public, which led to the boys being tried and sentenced in an adult court where Judge Justice Morland had publicly named the boys.[4] Both boys were given lifetime anonymity in 2001 just shortly before their release from jail. They were the first to ever receive this kind of anonymity and as the court described their decision as an "exceptional" injunction and it was done to protect their human rights. The grounds for this decision were based on the high risk that would be brought to their lives if they were to be known to the public, ultimately to protect them. Given that usually anonymity ends when the individual reaches the age of 18, it was only because of these unusual circumstances that both boys were given new identities. The outcome of this case had shaken the whole of the UK and later had a knock-on effect on the citizens as well. 

Granting criminals with new identities: does it work?

New identities are not freely handed out to just anyone, there are exceptional circumstances that must be met for the court to review the case. Having said that, during these court proceedings the law recognises the interest of the public along with the possible detrimental effects that the accused may have on others. The main part to highlight would be that the court’s decision to grant lifelong anonymity would be because; the potential harm of the accused was to be much more superior to the interest of the public. In cases when either the court has been the one to make the decision to grant lifelong anonymity or where the defender has applied for it, it must be emphasised that the court will not take this decision on lightly. Each case would have to be significantly analysed and made sure that the decision that is made will be in the interest of both the defender and the public. When a criminal has been given new identity, they have also been given the luxury of all the paraphernalia necessary to create their new life. These include new medical records, national insurance number etc, pretty much the standard materials and needs that would expect be expected for someone to have. Taking into consideration the amount of documented work and money that is involved in this process, this goes to show that this is not a decision that is passed of lightly. Not only is it going to have a huge impact on the life of the defender by potentially granting this, but it will also have a massive impact on the public. This is where both the positive and negative effects of this legislation must be evaluated and effectively to decide if giving people a second chance at life has shown to be effective.

Firstly, under the Human Rights Act 1998 all human beings are entitled to basic human rights and freedoms. For example, everyone has the right to life, work and education and the right to a fair trial. Along with these rights everyone also has legal protection of their human rights. If these rights are not protected correctly by public authorities like the government, police and councils then the individual involved can take their case to a UK court for breach of their human rights. As mentioned above, article 8 of this act governs the “Right to respect for private and family life”, which plays a huge part for arguing the point that this legislation should in fact be granted to these criminals. This significant piece of legislation stands for every person who is a resident in the United Kingdom and is exactly what contributes to giving these criminals the chance to be kept anonymous, after all they are human beings that have these rights. Despite the crimes these people have committed, they are protected with their rights and by respecting them with a private life may also increase the chance for them to rehabilitate.

Back in 2016, a government-commissioned review voiced that criminals should in fact be given life-long anonymity. The Standing Committee for Youth Justice, Pippa Goodfellow, voiced her opinion on the matter to the BBC. She had highlighted that anonymity plays a huge part of each rehabilitation programme involving young children who has committed an offence. Pippa also explained that due to the great influencing role that social media now plays in todays society, that naming them as adults “makes it very difficult for them to put their past behind them”. The article then went on to address her opinion that if a child was to be branded as an “offender” it could have a considerably negative impact on them. Not only on their lives but also on each opportunity that they may get in life regarding their education, employment and even their relationships.[5] In the same article the executive director of the Society of Editors, Ian Murray expressed his opinion on what he describes as “a very complicated issue”. Throughout this article Ian very much had the same view as Pippa by saying “the media should recognise that there is a chance for young people to reform”. However, he also stated that there should be a public enquiry for deciding on individual cases and whether it is within the public interest for these criminals to be named. It is important to take into consideration the victims’ families as well as the public and ensuring them that if a criminal is granted with life-long anonymity, that they are getting it for the correct reasons.

However, they are also given the choice to have a panic button installed in their house that would notify the local police of their new home if they felt as though they were in danger. As the Ministry of Justice refuses to reveal the exact figures of how much these costs, sources have estimated that it costs £250’000 per year from the UK taxpayer. £250’000 is the estimated cost per year, per identity which rounds up to roughly £1.5 million per year. This is when we now must look at what is fair on the victims of these criminals and the public, also to analyse if giving these criminals a second chance at life has worked. When the new identity of Venables was leaked in 2013, for example, the cost to the taxpayer of issuing him with a new identity came to approximately £500,000. 

[1] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2009/25/part/3

[2] https://www.scotsman.com/news/uk-news/mary-bell-granted-anonymity-1-650175

[3] http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1998/42/schedule/1/part/I/chapter/7

[4] https://allthatsinteresting.com/james-bulger-killers-robert-thompson-jon-venables

[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-47721177

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