Belfast Telegraph

Rape accused is latest to be given anonymity following death threat

BY CHRIS KILPATRICK AND ALAN ERWIN

A man charged with raping a woman in Belfast cannot be identified because he is under death threat, a judge has ordered.

The 35-year-old suspect is accused of carrying out a sex attack on the alleged victim last Saturday.

He appeared before Belfast Magistrates Court yesterday to face one count of rape.

A detective involved in the investigation said he could connect the accused with the offence.

Although bail was not sought, a defence lawyer applied for reporting restrictions to stop his client being named.

Michael Boyd said a death threat had been received which police were taking seriously.

District Judge Fiona Bagnall pointed out that it was a high test to grant anonymity to defendants.

But on the basis of a "real and immediate threat" to the accused, even though he remains in custody, she banned publication of the accused's name and address.

He was remanded in custody to appear again by video-link in a fortnight's time.

There have been a growing number of cases recently where defendants have been granted an anonymity order because judges believe their lives are under threat.

Londonderry Judge Barney McElholm has in the past imposed the orders in drugs cases, because of the activities of vigilante group Republican Action Against Drugs.

Raad is mainly active in Derry and Strabane and has been blamed for around 40 paramilitary-style punishment attacks on alleged drug dealers.

Mr McElholm has said he grants the orders because "there are people out there who seem to believe if someone is charged with an offence it means they are guilty of it".

He said "certain criminal elements in society" used media reports to establish the identity "of certain people".

Recently, Mr McElholm took the unprecedented step of banning the identification of three men accused of non drug-related offences.

He said he was imposing the order because naming one could result in the other two coming to the "attention of elements in this city who have shown in the past they are prepared to maim and kill".

Not all judges are happy with Mr McElholm's approach. A visiting judge recently questioned the policy to grant anonymity to those charged with certain offences.

District Judge John Meehan, asked: "What is this anonymity about? This is the fifth case today."

Stormont justice committee member Stewart Dickson said the banning of defendant's names in such cases caused concern.

BACKGROUND

The naming of those accused of criminal offences is central to the concept of open justice – that justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done .

There are exceptions to naming defendants, such as children accused of offences.

In some recent cases in Northern Ireland, however, lawyers have claimed their clients' lives are under threat. If a judge accepts this, the defendants' right to life under European legislation can take precedence over naming them in public.

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