A report examining sexual offence trials in Ireland has recommended anonymity be retained for the accused and introduced for accused paedophiles.
The O'Malley Review of Protections for Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences contains more than 50 recommendations to change how such legal proceedings are handled.
The report, published by Justice Minister Helen McEntee, notes that anonymity should be retained for the accused as the charges "attract a high degree of social stigma".
"Indeed, it is also true that the very fact of being investigated or charged, if publicised, can inflict profound reputational damage, even if the person is not prosecuted or is prosecuted but acquitted," the report states.
The report also recommends that "consideration should also be given to the anonymity of persons charged with other sexual offences, especially the new child exploitation offences" introduced in 2017, or offences against "persons with mental illness and intellectual disability".
"It seems only logical that a person charged with any of these offences should be entitled to anonymity on the same basis as a person charged with a rape offence or, as we now recommend, with a sexual assault offence," the report states.
The working group was appointed after the Belfast rape trial in 2018. The high-profile trial drew significant media coverage and brought to light the lengthy and difficult legal process for alleged victims of sexual violence.
A separate review in Northern Ireland recommended the present system in the North remain in place, where defendants are named publicly after being formally charged. That report said there was “clear evidence” that publishing a defendant’s name “serves to bring forward other complainants”.
The Republic is the only common law country that allows anonymity for a defendant in rape cases, making it an outlier in similar countries such as the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand and India.
The victim’s right to anonymity takes effect once a person is charged with a sexual assault offence. The report also recommended that "only in exceptional circumstances" can an application be made to question a victim about other sexual experiences and should only be permitted at trial if has been notified at the preliminary trial hearing.
The minister announced that she would develop an implementation plan and would report back to Government within 10 weeks.
“I want to ensure that we can effectively tackle the scourge of sexual violence, which is a blight on our society," Ms McEntee said.
“Where a wrong is done, we must ensure that all necessary supports are in place so that victims will feel safe and supported when they come forward.
“I want the victims of sexual crimes to know that they will be listened to, that they will be treated with respect and dignity, and that they will be supported throughout the process."
The minister indicated a number of actions would be prioritised, including that victims of sexual crime can access legal advice and support, a public awareness campaign around consent, and drafting legislation to provide for preliminary hearings to avoid delays in sexual offences cases.