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Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022

Anonymity of suspects
Section 12: Restriction on reports as to suspects of sexual offences

Subsections (1) and (2) of this section provide anonymity to a person against whom an allegation of having committed a sexual offence has been made to the police or a person who is being investigated by the police in connection with a sexual offence – ‘the suspect’. Nothing can be published that would lead to the identification of the suspect.

Subsection (5) details a list of non-exhaustive matters to which the reporting restrictions particularly apply. Subsection (3) provides that the reporting restrictions apply only up to the point of charge and sets out what constitutes a charge. Subsection (4) provides that where no charge is made, the reporting restrictions apply for the life of the suspect and for 25 years after the suspect’s death. Subsection (6) provides that the reporting restrictions will apply to a suspect regardless of whether the allegation is made, or there is a police investigation, before or after this section comes into operation.

Section 13: Meaning of sexual offence insection 12

Subsection (1) lists the offences which fall within the meaning of ‘sexual offence’ for the purposes of setion 12. Subsections (2) and (3) provide that the Department can amend the meaning of ‘sexual offence’ by regulations which must be laid in draft before, and approved by a resolution of, the Assembly.

Section 14: Power to dis-apply reporting restriction

This section provides that a ‘relevant person’ can apply to a magistrates’ court to dis-apply or modify the reporting restrictions provided by section 12. During the suspect’s lifetime, ‘relevant person’ means the suspect or the Chief Constable.

After the suspect’s death, ‘relevant person’ means a family member or a personal representative of the suspect, or a person interested in publishing matters relating to the suspect.

Subsection (3) clarifies that any order of the court to modify the reporting restrictions can reduce or increase the 25 year period of anonymity provided in section 12(4) but cannot override the loss of anonymity upon charge.

Subsections (8) and (9) define what is meant by ‘a family member’. Where an application has been made, subsection (5) places a duty on the court to make an order where it is in the interests of justice or the public interest to do so. An initial order can dis-apply or modify the reporting restrictions. A further order can vary or revoke the reporting restrictions.

Section 15: Magistrates’ courts rules

This section makes express provision for the making of magistrates’ courts rules relating to the making of applications to the Court to dis-apply or modify reporting restrictions and the consideration of these applications by the Court.

Section 16: Offence relating to reporting

Subsection (1) of this section details those who are held accountable where information identifying a suspect is included in a newspaper or periodical, in a relevant programme or in any other publication. Subsections (2), (3) and (4) relate to the defences available to a person charged with the offence.

Subsection (5) provides that a person guilty of an offence is liable on summary conviction to a maximum of six months imprisonment, or to a fine not exceeding a level 5 fine on the standard scale, or to both. Proceedings for an offence can only be brought with the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Section 17: Interpretation of sections 12 to 16

This section provides interpretation of the terms ‘picture’, ‘publication’, relevant programme, ‘statutory provision’ and ‘suspect’ for the purposes of sections 12 to 16

Section 18: Consequential amendment

This section makes a consequential amendment to section 44(4)(a) of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999 (restrictions on reporting alleged offences involving persons under 18). Section 44(4)(a) prohibits the publication of matters that could identify a person as involved in an offence while that person is under the age of 18.

The amendment excludes from section 44(4)(a), a suspect to whom new section 12(2) applies to ensure that the two legislative regimes do not overlap.

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Text created by the Northern Ireland Assembly department responsible for the subject matter of the Act to explain what the Act sets out to achieve and to make the Act accessible to readers who are not legally qualified. Explanatory Notes accompany all Acts of the Northern Ireland Assembly.


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