A Co Antrim schoolboy arrested in connection with the TalkTalk cyber attack has launched a legal challenge over an alleged failure to implement laws that would protect him from media identification.
The 15-year-old is seeking to judicially review the Department of Justice, claiming it has done nothing about a law prohibiting the press from naming juveniles suspected of crimes before they have been charged.
His lawyers contend that a legal loophole enabled his details and photograph to feature amid widespread newspaper and online publicity.
He is also suing three national newspapers and internet giants Google and Twitter for alleged breach of privacy.
The boy was interviewed on suspicion of offences under the Computer Misuse Act before being released on bail.
Under the terms of the 1999 Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act no details identifying anyone under 18 allegedly involved in an offence can be reported.
Although that law applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, counsel for the boy claimed Stormont’s failure to commence the Act impacted on his right to privacy.
Ronan Lavery QC also argued that it was irrational to be denied the same protection given to minors once they are charged with an offence.
He told the High Court today: “The applicant in this case was named and his photograph appeared, albeit there were some attempts to cover his eyes.
“He has been running around trying to pursue various media organisations.”
Had any charges been brought against the boy it would be contempt of court to identify him, with the Attorney General potentially becoming involved, according to Mr Lavery.
“Almost with a stroke of the pen this material would have disappeared from the internet,” he suggested.
The court heard that without implementation of the relevant section of the Act, the boy had to bring civil proceedings against publishers and firms based in the United States.
“It’s an almost impossible task the applicant faces of daily monitoring, which is difficult for him because he’s on police bail and restricted from accessing the internet,” his barrister claimed.
“It requires family members or his solicitor monitoring the internet for references and bringing these to the attention of Google and Twitter - a task which would be removed completely if Section 44 (of the Act) was commenced.”
At one stage the judge questioned whether the court was being asked to get involved in a political issue.
Rejecting a categorisation of the case as being urgent, Mr Justice Maguire insisted he would not be “rushed into making a decision in a case which has such a high policy content”.
Aidan Sands, for the Department of Justice, confirmed the same position applies in England and Wales - Section 44 has been enacted but no commencement order given.
With papers in the case only just served, the judge adjourned the challenge for two weeks to give the Department more time to consider the issues.