Oral Answer by Minister for Law, Mr K Shanmugam, to Parliamentary Question on Publishing Names of Accused Persons
10 May 2021 Posted in Parliamentary speeches and responses
Dr Tan Yia Swam (Nominated Member of Parliament)
To ask the Minister for Law (a) in what ways are press reports of ongoing trials of sex crimes regulated; and (b) what protection is there for medical professionals whose reputations are affected by media coverage of ongoing trials of sex crimes.
Mr Deputy Speaker, the Ministry of Law has previously assessed whether the names of accused persons should not be published until they are convicted. In this, we looked at the practice in other jurisdictions. Broadly speaking, there are two possible approaches:
(a) The first approach leans in favour of protecting the identity of accused persons if and until they are convicted, with some rules to grant anonymity to accused persons in specific types of cases. If you look at examples, you have:
i. In the Republic of Ireland, accused persons charged with rape offences are granted anonymity until they are convicted, unless a judge orders otherwise.
ii. In Switzerland, accused persons may be granted anonymity if the Court is satisfied that they could be exposed to serious danger to life and limb, or other serious prejudice.
iii. In New Zealand and Australia, where you have jury trials, the Court may prohibit disclosure of an accused person’s identity if it is satisfied that such a disclosure could create a serious risk of prejudicing a fair trial.
(b) That is one approach. The second approach is to lean in favour of just having open court proceedings and all matters are out immediately, and there is no general power to the Courts to grant accused persons any sort of anonymity to protect their reputations. For example, in the United Kingdom, the general position is that legal proceedings should be held in public, and there are some rules and exceptions which restrict media reporting of some criminal cases, and which prohibit the disclosure of the identity of accused persons. But the primary aim of those provisions is to protect vulnerable witnesses and victims, and to avoid substantial risk of prejudicing proceedings, if such a risk exists.
(c) The downside of this second approach is that, of course, the reputation of accused persons is often irreparably damaged by the publicity from media coverage of an ongoing criminal trial, even if they are acquitted at the end of the day. I think Dr Tan’s question probably arises from the trials of doctors in sex crimes, but this applies to all accused, and to a variety of cases.
- Our approach has been to lean towards the UK example. But both approaches have their merits and downsides. After assessment, we decided to keep our approach, which means that in general, accused persons are publicly tried and the verdict is publicly announced. That also allows unidentified victims of serial offenders, for example, to come forward and seek help.
- But I emphasise that our position on this issue is not set in concrete. We can also see the merits of shifting to some version of the first approach. So we will keep reviewing this, while we are maintaining the status quo.
- But I would say that even in the current situation, in certain circumstances, there is anonymity given, when it is required in the public interest. For example, when there is sensitive information relating to national security, or where the release of information on the accused may lead to identification of children, young persons, or alleged victims of sexual or child abuse offences. The reason for doing that is to protect those vulnerable victims and children from being identified, and give them a better life.
- With that focus, the Courts have some power to prohibit publication of the identity of the accused, and to impose some conditions on how the trial can be reported. And the media will have to comply with those requirements.
- There are, as I said, pros and cons with both approaches – whether to allow or to prohibit the publication of names of accused persons until they are convicted – and as I said earlier, we will keep our position under review. Thank you, Sir.
Last updated on 10 May 2021