Police were justified in publishing a 14-year-old boy’s photograph as part of an investigation into sectarian rioting in Derry, the High Court ruled today.
Senior judges held that it was a necessary step for the PSNI to release a series of images of suspects to local newspapers.
Lawyers for the boy claimed the decision taken after sustained street violence at a city interface in the summer of 2010 breached his right to privacy.
But Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan said: “I am satisfied, however, that in this case the balance came down firmly in favour of the publication of the photographs.”
Images of youths suspected of involvement in the disorder appeared in the press during a police initiative known as Operation Exposure.
It followed three months of sectarian paint bombings, petrol bombings and missile attacks in the Fountain Street and Bishop Street areas.
Residents of a nearby nursing home were said to be too frightened to venture out, while community leaders reported having lost any control over the children involved.
The court heard how a phased release of images of the suspects led to a dramatic reduction in crime and disorder.
Thirty seven children and young people were identified. Five were charged with offences and the rest entered into youth diversion or youth conferencing programmes.
The boy who challenged the decision to publish his photo in two newspapers cannot be identified.
His legal team sought to judicially review the PSNI, arguing that the operation was part of a name and shame policy without due process.
Sir Declan acknowledged the importance of protecting the welfare of children in the criminal justice system.
But in dismissing the challenge he set out a series of factors:
:: The interface violence was persistent and exposed vulnerable people to fear and risk of injury.
:: The pressing need to bring the trouble to an end and identify those responsible.
:: Detection by arresting at the scene was not feasible.
:: All other reasonably practical methods short of publishing the photos had been tried.
:: The need for early identification and to provide support and prevent re-offending among children involved in disorder.
He said: “I consider that the publication was necessary for the administration of justice and was not excessive in the circumstances.”
The judge also rejected the characterisation of the operation as a name and shame policy.
“This was a process which was designed to protect the public by preventing re-offending and ensuring that the children involved were diverted if at all possible,” he said.
“That reflected the need to protect the children and address their welfare in circumstances where they were exposed to sectarian public disorder.
“The risk of stigmatisation could not outweigh those factors.”
Two other judges, Lord Justices Higgins and Coghlin, also dismissed the challenge.
According to Lord Justice Higgins police exercised care and were sensitive to the issues involved.
“They engaged with the local community but in particular they carried out a human rights assessment of what they proposed to do,” he said.
“This was extremely comprehensive and went much beyond what, in my view, they were required to do.
“That they did so deserves commendation.”