I may have been less visible than usual here recently, but that’s not been simple idleness – and I have been writing elsewhere, including this piece the other week on Index on Censorship about Jon Venables. I was a bit concerned that my first piece for them was about the case for restraints on free expression – but there you are. I’m a bit of a contrarian by nature so perhaps that was fitting.

We know the power of the internet to unleash the madness, as well as the wisdom, of crowds – consider the “human flesh searches” that have been reported in China. Worryingly, #findandkillvenables has been used as a hashtag on Twitter. But the injunction binds everyone. I would not advise anyone in the UK to post or tweet anything in breach of it, or to publish anything about any offence Venables may have committed. There seems to me no reason why the Attorney General should not take action against them. As far as the mainstream media are concerned, the injunction even binds the media here from disclosing Venables’s new identity and appearance even if they do appear on the web… Free expression must be exercised responsibly when an ill-judged article may be a death sentence. In a perfect world, editors would act accordingly rather than indulging in the kind of legal brinkmanship that gives our free press a bad name. But if the Attorney General has to prosecute or seek someone’s committal to prison in order to enforce their responsibility, then we should back her.

At a meeting last night some non-lawyers were asking me about Jon Venables, and the conversation reminded me just how unclear it is to most members of the public that “outing” Venables would almost certainly destroy any potential prosecution of him. The government may well think the story has blown over for the time being, but this, surely is the argument it must make if it’s to hold the tabloid mood in check.

For any prosecution to succeed, there must be a trial, and a trial has to be fair. But, even if you believe in juries as I do, it’s difficult to see how any jury can be other than strongly prejudiced against Jon Venables. It’d have been far, far better if no details of the offence he’s supposed to have committed had been published – then he could have been tried in his secret identity and fairly convicted or acquitted. That may still be possible – I hope it is. If not, the impossibility of a fair trial – let alone security concerns – may rule out prosecution altogether.

Those who want to see justice take its course against Jon Venables should be more patient, not less, about discovering the details of what he’s alleged to have done. The government needs to get that message across if this comes back to the top of the news agenda.