Law on naming child victims of criminal offences to change

Cabinet approves adoption of Private Member’s Bill to change law

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she was determined to work to change the law as quickly as possible. Photograph: Sam Boal/Photocall

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said she was determined to work to change the law as quickly as possible. Photograph: Sam Boal/Photocall

 

The Cabinet has approved the adoption of a Private Member’s Bill to change the law in relation to the naming of child victims of criminal offences.

“The changes will allow parents to publicly remember their child and will allow for the identification of the person accused of the murder or manslaughter of the child,” Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said after she received Cabinet approval for the move.

The move follows a ruling of the Court of Appeal in October in relation to a section of the Children Act 2001, the effect of which was to prevent the media publishing the names of child victims of crimes, even in cases where the child was deceased, or had since grown to adulthood.

The ruling by the court meant that murder victims were no longer named in the media in articles covering past convictions, or in in coverage of funerals where a person was before the court on charges of having killed a child.

It also meant the identity of people found guilty of responsibility for a child’s death could not be identified, if doing so would reveal the identity of the victim.

The Minister has been engaging with Independent senator Michael McDowell, who brought the Private Member’s Bill in the Seanad.

Fianna Fáil TD Jim O’Callaghan has also presented a draft Bill to the Dáil on the issue.

Enactment

The Cabinet agreed that Mr McDowell’s Bill will be taken in Government time in the Seanad in the coming weeks with a view to its enactment as soon as possible. It is intended that amendments will be introduced to the Bill, so as to address certain areas not already covered by the draft law, including historical abuse cases.

“The profoundly negative impact the ruling is having on grieving parents, unable to remember their deceased children’s names or legacies in public, is very clear to me,” Ms McEntee said.

“I am determined to work to change this as quickly as possible and to give parents back their voice so they can speak publicly about how they want their children to be remembered. This is only right and it is only fair.”

Mr McDowell said the Bill will be retrospective in effect, in that once the measure becomes law it will cover instances of future disclosure of a child victim’s identity.

“There are some tricky issues raised in the Government’s amendments,” he said. “It might not go through in a flash.”

Issues such as protecting sibling witnesses would have to be carefully considered. “We don’t want a second set of unintended consequences.”

Ms McEntee said she wanted to thank Mr McDowell and Mr O’Callaghan for their constructive engagement on the issue, and that she looked forward to working with them to bring the matter to its rightful conclusion.