The introduction of new laws in Northern Ireland on 28th September granting anonymity to suspects in sexual offence cases for 25 years after their death would have prevented reporting of allegations against Jimmy Savile in Northern Ireland, the Society of Editors has warned.
The new laws, which also prevent the media from naming people suspected of sexual offences until they are charged, came into force on 28th September after legislation was passed by Stormont in March 2022.
The changes will also see members of the public banned from the Crown Court during sexual offence cases with access restricted to those involved in the case and journalists reporting on it.
Under the new rules, individuals investigated by the police on suspicion of sexual offences but not charged will be protected by anonymity until 25 years after their death with lifetime anonymity for victims of sexual offences extended until 25 years after they die.
Commenting on the changes, Dawn Alford, executive director of the Society of Editors said: “The new anonymity laws which have come into force in Northern Ireland today 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.
“The media has a duty to investigate and report on legitimate and serious allegations on behalf of the public and it is widely accepted that, in doing so, this encourages other victims to come forward. Granting anonymity to those suspected of sexual offences for 25 years after their death is absurd and had this law been in place in 2012, it would have prevented the naming of Jimmy Savile in Northern Ireland in relation to sexual abuse allegations made against him.
“It remains a fundamental principle of the justice system that justice must be seen to be done and, as well as setting a deeply alarming precedent for those seeking to implement changes elsewhere, today’s new law will not improve confidence in the criminal justice system – it will have the total opposite effect.”
The law change follows a review of laws and procedures relating to sexual offences and a report published in 2019 by retired senior judge Sir John Gillen.
The review was commissioned after the high-profile rape trial of two former Ulster rugby players, Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, which ended in their acquittal.Keep up-to-date with publishing news: sign up here for InPubWeekly, our free weekly e-newsletter.