Drug case accused often not named

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Four out of five anonymity orders granted at Derry Magistrates Court in the last year have been for people accused of drugs offences.

Figures obtained by the ‘Journal’ under a Freedom of Information request show that since August last year a total of 29 anonymity orders have been granted by judges at the local magistrates court.

The orders were granted under article two of the European Convention of Human Rights - the right to life.

However, the figures obtained from the Northern Ireland Court Service show that only one anonymity order was granted in the rest of Northern Ireland in 2013. This was for an alleged sex offender.

In Derry, 24 of the orders were granted for defendants accused of drugs offences and two for people accused of sex offences. Three further orders were granted for other offences.

A leading local solicitor has said he believes the anonymity orders can be justified.

As a result of the orders, the defendants’ name, age, address or the date of the next court appearance could not be printed by the media.

Some of the anonymity orders were granted after the defendant was named in open court and because it was “accepted practice in this division”.

It is understood that one man, accused of drugs offences, who was granted anonymity, was shot.

Defence solicitor Paddy MacDermott, who was the first to make a successful application for an anonymity order, said that the orders were “necessary to protect people’s lives because there was an orchestrated campaign by paramilitaries targeting alleged drug dealers”.

He said he believes that anyone charged with an offence “which could carry public opprobrium should be entitled to anonymity until such time as they are found guilty”.

Following a High Court challenge by a local man who was refused an anonymity order, Mr MacDermott believes that they will “become less common because you have to show a specific threat against an individual”.