Media challenge to Northern Ireland’s pre-charge anonymity for sex offence suspects

Media challenge to Northern Ireland's pre-charge anonymity for sex offence suspects

Northern Ireland’s largest newspaper publishers have launched a joint legal challenge to new legislation granting pre-charge anonymity to suspects of sexual offences.

Under the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022, which came into force last September, suspects of sexual offences cannot be named until they are charged or until 25 years after their death.

The change — one of a number of significant reforms in the Act — followed Sir John Gillen’s review of the administration of justice in serious sexual offence cases in Northern Ireland, which was published in 2019.

The Irish News has joined with the Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life to challenge the pre-charge anonymity provisions on the basis of their alleged incompatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights.

Irish News editor Noel Doran said: “We are deeply concerned about the anonymity clause in the new legislation and we believe it is very much in the public interest that it should be reviewed.”

Eoin Brannigan, editor-in-chief of the Belfast Telegraph and Sunday Life, said: “Primarily this is about victims. Sex offences can be extremely difficult to prosecute and there have been numerous high-profile occasions when the work of journalists has exposed notorious offenders.

“As abusers often evade justice in life, when they die victims feel they can speak openly. This law potentially denies them even that.

“The consequences of the legislation for media in Northern Ireland are very real and we are already dealing with them on a daily basis. We’re happy to join with The Irish News in this application. It’s a measure of how concerning the matter is for us that we feel we need to pursue this course of action.”

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