A Northern Ireland man will be prosecuted after allegedly publicly identifying the accuser in a rugby rape case on the grounds that he breached the woman's anonymity. According to the BBC, the man is facing charges after revealing the name of the alleged woman who accused rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding of rape.
Jackson and Olding were both cleared of rape charges in March following a high-profile trial that lasted for nine weeks, but the man — who has not yet been named — reportedly violated a "lifetime ban on reporting the alleged victim's identity." According to the Public Prosecution Service in Northern Ireland, the man could face a fine of up to £5,000 — roughly $6,500 — if he is convicted.
"The Public Prosecution Service can confirm it has taken a decision to prosecute one person in relation to an allegation of breaching the anonymity granted to a complainant in a high profile rape trial," a PPS spokesperson said in a statement, according to The Guardian. "In taking these decisions, senior prosecutors considered evidence received from police in relation to social media posts which were alleged to have potentially identified a complainant involved in trial proceedings which ran at Belfast Crown Court from January to March 2018."
According to the statement, a second suspect who was also accused of reporting the woman's identity will not be prosecuted due to "insufficient evidence."
In the United Kingdom, which includes Northern Ireland, complainants in rape cases are entitled to complete anonymity for the rest of their lives under the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act 1992. It is therefore a criminal offense to publicly identify a complainant's name and address — or publish photo or video footage of a complainant — during the course of their lifetime.
Social media was also a significant source of controversy during Jackson and Olding's trial, according to the BBC, largely because of the intense debates that took place online. Judge Patricia Smyth urged the jury to stay away from social media while the trial was progressing because she was worried that "fireside lawyers" who came to conclusions without having access to the evidence would interfere with the outcome.
Following the trial, there was an outpouring of support for the complainant on social media, and calls for changes in how rape and sexual assault cases are handled in Northern Ireland, per The Independent. However, The Independent also reported that the case — and the way social media users rallied around the complainant — sparked concern about due process and the presumption of innocence.
In a unanimous decision, the jury ultimately cleared Jackson and Olding, but not before lawyers reportedly spent days monitoring online content. Consequently, Smyth told the jury upon the trial's conclusion that “this has probably been the most difficult trial that any jury in Northern Ireland has ever been asked to adjudicate on,” according to The Belfast Telegraph. Smyth was not the only person who was worried, either; lawyers routinely drew her attention to online comments throughout the case because they were concerned that they endangered the defendants' right to a fair trial.
As a result of the controversy generated by this high-profile case, the Criminal Justice Board in Northern Ireland has since asked Sir John Gillen — a retired Appeal Court judge — to review how the judicial system handles serious sexual crimes. The Belfast Telegraph reported that Gillen's report, which is expected to be completed by January 2019, will assess how social media impacts such trials and whether or not additional measures can be taken to ensure a complainant's complete anonymity.