Northern Ireland

Justice Minister Naomi Long says it was a ‘lie’ to suggest unmasking alleged sex offenders would cost money

The High Court ruled that Stormont legislation was incompatible with human rights

Justice Minister Naomi Long called for ‘cool heads’
Justice Minister Naomi Long. PICTURE: LIAM MCBURNEY/PA (Liam McBurney/PA)

Naomi Long has said it was a “lie” to claim that a bid to name a sex offence suspect would cost money under legislation she introduced that was later ruled incompatible with human rights.

The justice minister said the claim was among a number of “falsehoods” that had been attached to the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Act (Northern Ireland) 2022.

The law, which among other things granted anonymity for life, and for 25 years after death, to those suspected of sexual offences but not charged, was described by a High Court judge as having the “chilling effect” of imposing a criminal sanction on public interest journalism.

In last month’s ruling, Mr Justice Humphreys declared it was beyond Stormont’s legislative competence to introduce the controversial act.

Mrs Long has yet to indicate whether she plans to appeal the court ruling, which represented a victory for media organisations, including The Irish News, who challenged legislation.

Disgraced entertainer Jimmy Savile was revealed as a prolific sex offender after his death in 2012 (Peter Jordan/PA)
Under Stormont legislation Jimmy Savile could not have been named as an alleged sex offender. PICTURE: PETER JORDAN/PA

The Alliance leader was quizzed on the outcome of the High Court challenge during an interview on Radio Ulster’s Talkback on Friday.

When it was put to her that the press would not have been able to report on allegations of a sexual nature against Jimmy Savile in his lifetime, because he had not been charged with any offences, the justice minister said that was not the case.

She said media organisations would have to apply to the chief constable to have the gag lifted.

Mr Long rejected the claim that such a move would be “costly”.

“No, because no costs are attached to those applications,” she said.

“So that’s some of the falsehoods that have been stirred about this.”

The minister said the Department of Justice had been in touch with the courts and that a decision had been made that there would be no cost attached to the applicant who wished to publicise the name of the alleged perpetrator of sexual offences.

“So the lie that has been told that this would cost money and that people could be dissuaded from doing it...,” she said.

The justice minister said she was waiting for a written legal opinion before making a decision on a potential appeal.

“The decision whether or not to appeal it is more complex because it also has wider constitutional ramifications,” she said.

Mrs Long said irrespective of whether the court’s decision is appealed “because of the constitutional issues” she said her department would “still be looking at whether or not we need to amend the law”.