Baby Peter and anonymity
Like other media organisations BBC News has been subject to the reporting restrictions in the Baby Peter case, lifted last night, which stipulated that none of the defendants could be named.
These were ordered because the defendants were the subject of another trial, for the rape of a two-year-old girl, which could have been compromised if the jury were prejudiced by information from the earlier case, and also because there were children who were still in the process of being placed with alternative carers.
Now that Steven Barker has been found guilty and sentenced in the rape trial, and all the children are being cared for, the guilty trio's anonymity has ceased and we along with the rest of the media have been able to name them.
This sounds deceptively simple, but when you look at what this means online it is more complicated. A news website like the BBC's will have a huge archive of stories, some of which may contain information which only later becomes the subject of legal restriction.
On this occasion, there were indeed two stories in our own archive relating to the very early stages of the Baby Peter case which, if you searched for them, did give the names of the defendants. We did not republish or link to them from new stories, but on this occasion plenty of other people chose to do so.
There were vigilante-style websites, blogs and individual e-mailers who were determined to make the names public and who were making a point of linking to our archived stories.
We removed the stories from our archive even though in practice the details were easy to find, and the information had already been reproduced and cached elsewhere on the internet. Now that the restrictions have been lifted we've reinstated the stories in the archive. Not, incidentally, a very practical or easy way of doing things if we had to do it very often.
But it has raised again a wider question as to how useful or effective such restrictions can be, given the ease with which the web allows information to be shared, stored and duplicated on other sites, blogs or in search engine caches.
My colleague Ceri Thomas, on another occasion, summed up well the challenges posed by the internet to the Contempt of Court Act. This case has provided another illustration of those issues, and another example of how seeking to restrict access to information may not necessarily be the most effective approach.
The judge in the second trial, for the rape of the two-year-old child, recognising the risk that it could be compromised by the jury seeing potentially prejudicial information circulating online, eventually decided that it could go ahead anyway. The members of the jury were simply given instructions not to do any research on the internet. In other words, the onus was placed on them, as trusted participants in the judicial process, to focus only on the evidence before them in court.
Steve Herrmann is editor of the BBC News website.