SEXUAL OFFENCES - THE MEDIA AND THE PUBLIC’S RIGHT TO KNOW - WHY SOME CASES GET REPORTED AND SOME DON’T
Sexual offences are among the most serious charges under the Criminal Code and include everything from aggravated sexual assault to pornography charges and child pornography charges. On any given day in courts throughout Nova Scotia persons accused of sexual offences appear to elect their mode of trial or to enter a plea and obtain a trial date or sometimes for a trial itself. While it is bad enough that an accused person will find themselves before a court facing such serious criminal charges, what is worse is the fear that their names will be published in a newspaper, mentioned on radio or television or in some online media. The publication of the name of an accused who is charged but not convicted (i.e. presumed to be innocent) of a sexual offence will frequently have very serious consequences including social stigma and the possible loss of employment.
What determines whether a case gets reported by the media or not? If the accused has the same family name as the victim and publication of the name of the accused would identify the victim, there will almost certainly be a court ordered publication ban on reporting the name of the accused or any other information which might identify the alleged victim of the sexual offence.
If a person accused of a sexual offence is socially prominent, for example a politician, a lawyer, a doctor or some other professional, the odds of the name of the accused being reported are greater. Even if reporters are not present in court, human nature being what it is, the information that such a person has been charged with a sexual offence will often find its way to the media.
In cases which do not involve socially prominent people, whether a criminal accusation gets reported or not will depend on the seriousness of the offence was or the notoriety of the incident which led to the sexual charge being laid.
Most people accused of sexual offences, who are not socially prominent and where the events themselves were not particularly notorious, will often avoid seeing their names published in the newspaper, mentioned on radio or television or in some other media. A skilled criminal defence lawyer will ensure that his client does not appear in court for routine court appearances by having filed a Designation of Counsel with the court which enables the lawyer to appear on behalf of the accused person. A criminal defence lawyer will usually ensure that the criminal charges are not read out in court and that the only times the accused is attending at court is for a preliminary inquiry, a trial or a sentence hearing.
While it may appear unfair, a person accused of a sexual offence in a large centre, such as Halifax, will often remain anonymous while a person accused of such an offence in a smaller centre will usually find their case mentioned in the local newspaper. While our criminal court system is based on the principle of the public having a right to know, whether the name of an accused is actually reported in the media is far from certain and in some cases can be avoided by a skilled criminal defence lawyer.