Murderers of Bulger 'have right to privacy'

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The Independent Online

Lawyers acting for the killers of two-year-old James Bulger made a legal attempt yesterday to ensure they are shielded from media attention for the rest of their lives.

Lawyers acting for the killers of two-year-old James Bulger made a legal attempt yesterday to ensure they are shielded from media attention for the rest of their lives.

A High Court judge was told Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, both now 18, could be exposed to "serious physical risk and serious psychological fear" by media coverage. An interim injunction, granted in July, bans the taking or publishing of photographs of the men or reporting on their progress.

Lawyers acting for Venables and Thompson want to extend the ban for the rest of the pair's lives but media organisations are opposing the move on the basis that they are now adults. Venables and Thompson hope to win parole early next year, after a ruling by the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, that they had served the minimum tariff necessary under their life sentences.

The men, both aged 10 when they beat the toddler to death in Liverpool in February 1993, have served their sentences in secure local authority accommodation and are unlikely to be sent to a young offenders' institution or adult prison.

Edward Fitzgerald QC, for Venables, told the court that the present injunction banned anyone publishing anything about the pair's whereabouts or their assumed identities when they were released. "Disclosure of that information would expose [Venables] and his co-detainee to serious physical risk and serious psychological fear and the likelihood of harassment. It is necessary to protect his right to life and freedom from persecution and harassment."

In a hearing likely to last all week, the Family Division president, Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss, has to balance the youths' right to privacy and family life under the European Human Rights Convention and the Human Rights Act against the media's right to freedom of expression.

Mr Fitzgerald said it was the duty of the state to protect the men. The right to life and freedom from persecution took precedence over the right to freedom of expression. He said the men also had a statutory right to rehabilitation and the publishing of information about them would interfere with it.

After the original trial, Mr Justice Morland agreed to the publication of the identities of the boys and their photographs to help the public debate of the issue, Mr Fitzgerald said. "It should not expose them to lifelong focus on who they are and what they look like," he said.

He said there had been a media campaign to have the men's tariff increased, which had unduly influenced the former Home Secretary Michael Howard. That claim was later rejected by Mr Howard. "All that I did when I decided how long the killers ought to stay in custody was to take into account the need to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system," he said.