Ireland

DRCC welcomes recommendation for pretrial hearings in sex crime cases

Minister for Justice says new measures will be implemented within 10 weeks

The report also recommends that suspects charged with sex crimes should not be named when their cases are before the courts unless and until they are convicted. File photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

The report also recommends that suspects charged with sex crimes should not be named when their cases are before the courts unless and until they are convicted. File photograph: Matt Kavanagh/The Irish Times

The chief executive officer of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Noeline Blackwell, has welcomed the recommendation of pretrial hearings in sex crime cases at which “side issues” could be addressed.

An expert group appointed by the government after the 2018 Belfast rape trial will publish its report on Thursday. Chaired by barrister and NUI Galway law lecturer Tom O’Malley, the group decided against recommending that sex crime victims be allocated their own legal representation during trials, saying such a move would destabilise how court cases were run.

However, it said new pretrial hearings should be established, at which complainants would be legally represented. Any barrister planning to question a complainant about their sexual history would need to apply to do so at a pretrial hearing.

Ms Blackwell told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland that pre-trial applications discussing the complainants’ sexual history were important to ensure that a complainant was not hit by an application that is “disconcerting at the very least, and horrifying to say the most” at the last minute.

Information and support were key areas identified in the report that need to be implemented quickly, she said.

Very often “the loneliest person” on the journey to prosecution for a sexual offence was the victim, who was often left lacking in support, information and basic legal advice, said Ms Blackwell.

Proposals to establish a clear pathway before a case is set down for hearing, were very welcome, she added, “so that when it comes to hearing, somebody will get heard on the day” and that anonymity would be granted in respect of all sexual assault cases. The victim was entitled to a hearing that allowed them to tell their story clearly without being “retraumatised”.

It was important that there be recognition of how different sexual offences were from other crimes, she said.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee told the same programme that her plan was that within 10 weeks she would put in place measures to implement the recommendations of the report with input from NGOs involved and the authorities.

Some of the recommendations she hoped to move on “very quickly”. Ms McEntee said it was important that victims know that they would be supported and that they would know the supports available to them.

The current delays in the system needed to be addressed, she added and issues such as consent needed to be addressed further than in schools and universities.

The report also recommends that suspects charged with sex crimes should not be named when their cases are before the courts unless and until they are convicted.

While those charged in the Republic with rape and other sex offences on the so-called upper end of the scale currently have anonymity during trials, suspects charged with some other sexual assaults can be named.

The report recommends that if suspects were convicted they could be named, as long as naming them did not identify their victims. At the same time, victims would retain anonymity unless they wanted to waive it so the person who attacked them could be named in the media.

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