New sexual offences legislation has come into force.

The Sexual Offences and Obscene Publications Act, which came into effect on Monday, aims to provide better protection for victims by increasing maximum sentences in a number of areas and creating new offences such as revenge porn, voyeurism and ‘upskirting’.

It also outlaws conversion therapy and updates child abuse and child exploitation offences.

But it also contains provisions that give anonymity to suspects in sex cases unless and until they are convicted.

The new Act makes it an offence to publish or otherwise make public any material leading to the identification of victims and defendants, including names, addresses, educational establishments, workplaces or images.

If a person is found guilty, all restrictions will generally be lifted. It’s a move that puts the island out of step with the UK that repealed anonymity for defendants in sexual offence cases in 1988 after the provision had been in place for just 12 years.

One reason given for not changing the law back again in 2003 was that it would give the impression that there is presumption of doubt about the credibility of the complaint in sex offence cases.

With the new law enacted, UK media outlets will be able to report cases that the Manx media cannot.

And while the legislation provides for anonymity of defendants to be lifted after conviction, there is a real danger that many sexual offences cases will now go unreported.

Justice and Home Affairs Minister Jane Poole-Wilson said: ‘The modernisation and strengthening of these laws is a significant step towards making our communities safer, and making sure that we are dealing with these awful crimes in an appropriate and robust way.

‘The Act will enable our courts to give stronger punishments, and give the police more flexible powers to keep victims and the public safe from these harms. 

‘I am very grateful to all those who have been involved in the journey of this Act and, in particular, the significant amount of preparation ahead of go-live on March 25.’

An extensive training programme has taken place across government and the police to ensure all parts of the organisation are ready to deal with the new law.

A spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said: ‘The anonymity change provides protections for victims, alleged offenders (until the point they are found guilty) and witnesses.

‘It will grant automatic anonymity to victims and alleged offenders following an allegation due to the impact reporting can have, particularly on a small Island where there can be serious long-term repercussions for anyone mentioned in a court report and implicated or involved in a sexual offence.

‘This anonymity is not unconditional and can be lifted if it is deemed to be in the public interest or essential to encourage other witnesses to come forward. ‘

The Act also sees Sexual Harm Prevention Orders and Sexual Risk Orders being introduced, which will allow controls such as curfews and exclusions to be placed on those who pose a sexual risk to others even before a conviction or guilty plea.

The Act also contains more stringent notification requirements for convicted sex offenders.