O’Toole to press Long over plans on sex offender anonymity

matthew o'toole

SDLP Leader of the Opposition Matthew O’Toole MLA has secured an urgent oral question to the Justice Minister this afternoon in order to press her on whether she will drop damaging provisions which give accused sex offenders lifetime anonymity – including for 25 years after death – an action which could criminalise investigative journalism and prevent abuse victims speaking out.

Last week, a judge in Belfast ruled that provisions in the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022 were not compatible with human rights or press freedom.

Media organisations who brought the judicial review of the law have expressed concern that the law could send journalists and sex abuse victims who speak out to prison.

The Justice Minister now faces a decision on whether to appeal the High Court decision in order to preserve the law she passed, an appeal which would cost public money at a time of extreme pressure on the Justice department’s budget.

Matthew O’Toole MLA, who also founded Stormont’s APG on Press Freedom, said:

“This was bad law, rushed through Stormont and poorly scrutinised. The consequences could have been grave, both for press freedom and also for the ability of abuse victims to secure some form of public accountability from their abusers in the long term. As has been pointed out, had this law been operational in the years after Jimmy Savile’s death, local media would have been legally barred from naming him.

“It is welcome that a judge struck down this aspect of the law, but we now need the Justice Minister to confirm she will not appeal the decision in order to save face or for any other reason. It would be the wrong decision to compound the original mistaken policy, and it would be a misuse of public money.”

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