New anonymity law for suspected sex offenders which would have made it illegal to call Jimmy Savile a paedophile comes into force in Northern Ireland
- The anonymity applies from when an allegation is made or police investigate
A new anonymity law for suspected sex offenders came into force in Northern Ireland yesterday which would have made it illegal to call Jimmy Savile a paedophile.
The draconian legislation, which introduces a blanket ban on the identification of sex offender suspects until 25 years after their death if they are not charged, was described as an ‘affront to open justice’ yesterday.
Under the law, reporters would have faced the prospect of a six-month jail sentence just for naming Savile, the late TV presenter, as a notorious sexual predator. The Bill, which came into force yesterday, will also exclude the public from rape and other sexual offence trials.
The anonymity applies from the point when either an allegation about the suspect is made to the police, or the police take steps to investigate the suspect.
Northern Ireland is the first area in the UK to introduce the restrictions. But the Law Commission, which recommends legal reform to Parliament, is consulting on similar measures for England and Wales, where there could be an ‘automatic entitlement’ for rape victims to exclude members of the public when giving evidence.
A new anonymity law for suspected sex offenders came into force in Northern Ireland yesterday which would have made it illegal to call Jimmy Savile (pictured) a paedophile
Yesterday media groups and lawyers warned the prohibition on identifying suspects would have a disastrous impact on prosecutions, preventing victims and witnesses from coming forward.
The law, passed by the devolved Stormont Assembly in March 2022, would prohibit the naming of suspects currently under police investigation such as comedian Russell Brand. Anyone who breaks the law faces the prospect of a six-month prison sentence and/or a fine of £5,000.
Dawn Alford, head of the Society of Editors, said the laws ‘are not only an affront to open justice, but they will have a devastating effect on the reporting of sexual abuse allegations and the willingness of victims to come forward. Today’s new law will not improve confidence in the criminal justice system – it will have the total opposite effect.’
Belfast media lawyer Fergal McGoldrick said: ‘The unintended consequence may be that police can only obtain information from one complainant, since no other victims or witnesses would have knowledge of the police investigation.’
It follows a review of procedures relating to sexual offences led by retired senior judge Sir John Gillen after a rape trial of two former Ulster rugby players, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, ended in their acquittal.
Sir John had noted the ‘utter humiliation of being obliged to recite the most intimate and distressing details of their experiences before, potentially, a packed courtroom’.
‘It was one of a number of factors deterring victims from engaging in the criminal justice process. That particular fear has now been removed,’ he said.
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