Northern Ireland: Sex offence suspects now anonymous until charged
New laws to safeguard the privacy and anonymity of victims of sexual offences and suspects in sexual offence cases in Northern Ireland have come into effect from today.
Under the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022, Northern Ireland is now the only part of the UK where suspects in sexual offence cases cannot be named until they are charged – which is already the case in Ireland.
The newly-commenced Act also provides for the exclusion of the public from court in serious sexual offence cases and the extension of existing lifelong anonymity for victims of sexual offending for a period of 25 years after the victim has died.
The changes follow Sir John Gillen’s review of the administration of justice in serious sexual offence cases in Northern Ireland, which was published in 2019. Many of his recommendations have already been implemented, including the provision of independent sexual offences legal advisers for all complainants.
Richard Pengelly CB, permanent secretary at the Department of Justice, said: “Sir John’s review concluded that the unrestricted access of the public to trials of serious sexual offences humiliated and intimidated complainants, and deterred victims of sexual crimes from reporting them to the police. The exclusion of the public from court in these cases is an important step in giving greater protection and support to victims.
“I hope that all these measures will enable victims to have greater confidence in the criminal justice system and that, rather than suffer in silence, they will feel able to report when they have been the victim of a sexual offence, knowing that these further protections are in place.”
Sir John said: “One of the most unforgiving consequences of a complainant coming forward in a serious sexual offence has been 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 in the context of sexual attacks. That particular fear has now been removed.”