A Co Antrim schoolboy arrested over the TalkTalk cyber attack has won the right to challenge an alleged failure to implement legislation that would protect him from media identification.
He was granted leave at the High Court in Belfast today to seek to judicially review the Department of Justice over claims it has done nothing about a law prohibiting the press from naming juveniles suspected of crimes before they are charged.
A judge ruled that the 15-year-old has established an arguable case that the situation breached his right to privacy.
It is the second set of proceedings issued by the teenager since he was detained in October by police investigating a major hack into the phone and broadband provider’s database.
He is also also suing three national newspapers and internet giants Google and Twitter for allegedly revealing his identity.
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-one under 18 allegedly involved in an offence can be named in press reports.
Although that law applies to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, lawyers for the boy claimed Stormont’s continued failure to commence the Act has impacted on his privacy entitlements.
They claim it was irrational to be denied the same protection given to minors once they are charged with an offence.
The legal loophole enabled his details and photograph to feature amid widespread newspaper and online publicity, according to their case.
In court today Ronan Lavery QC argued that a ban on publishing the youth’s identity secured in the separate, ongoing litigation was not enough.
“This applicant was put out of his house before he was even able to take proceedings,” the barrister said.
“Then he had to take injunctive proceedings against a multitude of media outlets.”
Aidan Sands, for the Department of Justice, argued that the teenager can sue for damages over any alleged breach of privacy.
He told the court there has been no public “clamour” to commence the relevant Section 44 of the Act since justice powers were devolved to Stormont.
“In those five years, to the best of the Department’s knowledge, this matter has never been raised as an issue,” he said.
The current press regulatory scheme includes a right to complain about any breach of the editor’s code, the court heard.
Contending that widespread consultation would be required before Section 44 could be commenced, Mr Sands added: “Apart from this case it hasn’t ever raised itself as an issue.
“The position the Department takes is the same as in England and Wales, the current system is working and fit for purpose.”
He also claimed any criminal sanctions arising from enactment of the legislation would only apply to media organisations in Northern Ireland.
“This is an international story,” the barrister stressed.
“His name and image could have been circulated in the press and on the internet outside the jurisdiction of Northern Ireland.”
Ruling on the application, Mr Justice Maguire acknowledged the Department’s arguments may ultimately fend off the challenge.
But granting leave, he said there were issues worthy of further exploration.
The case will now proceed to a full hearing on a date to be fixed next year.