Judge searching for answer to Google row reporting conundrum

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A High Court judge has suggested deciding what reporters can reveal about a case in which two men want Google to stop linking their names to internet information referring to criminal convictions may prove difficult.

The two men say the convictions are more than a decade old and legally “spent”.

Both have taken legal action against Google bosses arguing they have a “right to be forgotten”.

A judge is due to analyse rival arguments at a trial later this year.

Mr Justice Nicklin says a balance will need to be struck between “open justice” and not revealing the information the two men say should be “forgotten”.

The judge examined a number of legal issues at a High Court hearing in London on Thursday and has outlined his thoughts in a written analysis.

He has barred journalists from revealing the men’s identities in coverage of the case – following applications from their lawyers – pending further discussion about reporting.

“These two claims will be the first cases in England & Wales in which the right to be forgotten will be considered by the court,” said the judge.

“The very important principle of open justice applies to all cases that come before the courts, but there is likely to be a substantial and obviously legitimate interest in these two cases because they are novel and because of the issues that are raised.

“The reason that reporting restrictions are sought by the claimants in this case is that, if they were named (or otherwise identified), reports of this case would lead to the publication again of the very information which they argue should be allowed to be ‘forgotten’.

“In other words, without reporting restrictions, the claimants would destroy by the legal proceedings that which they are seeking by those proceedings to protect.”

He suggested that one solution would be to stage hearings behind closed doors.

“In some cases, the only way in which the court can preserve the information that is sought to be protected, pending the court’s decision as to whether it should be, is by holding the hearing in private and by excluding the public and media from the whole or part of the proceedings,” he said.

“The court strives to avoid that. It is a measure of last resort because it prevents the public and press from being able to see and report on those proceedings that are held in private.

“Even when cases are heard in private, the Court will – wherever possible – give a public judgment, in suitable terms, that enables an explanation to be given as to the nature of the proceedings, what has been decided and why but without destroying that which the claimant is trying to protect.”

He added: “The reporting of this case presents challenges in striking the correct balance.”

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