The courts in Ireland have been faced with an unusual situation over the right to anonymity provided to victims of rape. Rape victims are, as it is across the UK, entitled to anonymity before, during and after rape trials.
In Ireland the accused is also entitled to anonymity, under the Criminal Law (Rape) Act 1981, up to the point of conviction when that right is withdrawn. In a case heard last year, a man was convicted of raping a woman when she was a child. The allegations related to a period when the two grew up next door to each other. The rapes commenced when the victim was aged nine and her attacker was 17 and continued over a two year period.
Following the conviction the judge took the step of maintaining the anonymity of the convicted rapist in order to protect the identity of his victim.
The complication that has now arisen is that the victim has indicated that she wishes to waive her own anonymity as she wants to have the perpetrator named. The State, through the DPP, advised the court that the victim wanted to speak freely about her ordeal but was prevented from doing so by the court’s orders. The representatives for the defendant have objected to this advising that they see no legal basis on which the victim can waive her anonymity. The impact on the defendant is that if the victim waives her anonymity the protection given to the defendant will evaporate and thus the strong objection by the defence.
This is a highly unusual situation and the matter was adjourned to allow the defendant to be in court to hear the representations and to be fully aware of the implications to him should the court allow the victim’s application.
The issue of anonymity for defendant’s in sexual abuse trials is a complex one and very recently in Northern Ireland Lord Justice Gillen rejected the approach in his review of how sexual offences would be investigated and tried. It is likely that this debate will continue and the outcome of this case could be a complex one as the victim could be free to identify herself but will she be allowed to do that as a route to overturn a decision made previously by the court?
Written by Fintan Canavan, partner at BLM