DPP decisions not to prosecute in sex cases rarely reversed
‘In almost all cases there is no witness to the offence itself apart from the complainant’
Requests for reviews of decisions not to prosecute alleged sexual offences were successful in only 2 per cent of cases.
Decisions not to prosecute alleged sexual offences were reversed in just two per cent of cases where a request for a review of the original decision by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) was made, a conference has heard.
Addressing the conference the DPP, Claire Loftus, said that since the new system was introduced two years ago allowing her office to give reasons for its decisions, the largest proportion of requests for reasons have come from complainants in respect of sexual offences.
Sexual offences cases made up 17 per cent of all files received by her office, but accounted for 38 per cent of all requests for reasons received following decisions not to prosecute.
Of all the requests for reviews of decisions made by the DPP, 42 per cent come from complainants of sexual offences, she told the annual national conference for prosecutors organised by her office.
The question was why this “disproportionately high” level of requests came in cases involving alleged sexual offences, she said.
She said this was in part no doubt because sexual offences were the most serious type of criminal offence after fatal cases, and it was to be expected that complainants “will have a very personal interest in knowing why we have not prosecuted”.
Also, the prosecution rate for sexual offences complaints was comparatively low. Sexual offences were often complex and decisions not to prosecute could be based on a number of factors.
“In almost all cases there is no witness to the offence itself apart from the complainant,” Ms Loftus said.
“Where adults are concerned there may be no dispute that some sexual activity happened but rather it is a question of whether there is sufficient evidence that there was an absence of consent on the part of the complainant.”
In cases involving people under seventeen, there could be challenges in relation to receiving the evidence of children.
“In other cases involving children there may be public interest factors at play which mean that in the particular circumstances the public interest does not require a prosecution of the other party to the sexual activity who is also a child. These decisions are often finely balanced and require very careful consideration.”
Right to review
She said that while the number of decisions not to prosecute that had been reversed to date was very low, “it does nevertheless demonstrate, I hope, that the right to review now enshrined in domestic legislation has meaning.”
Forensic science expert Professor Alex Biedermann of the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, gave an address on the Evolution of Forensic Science Reporting .
He said the practice was switching towards focusing on the probability of findings giving competing propositions, rather than making “certainty assertions” in relation to indentifying individuals arising from forensic material such as fingerprints, blood or writing.
Dr Sean Redmond, Adjunct Professor of Youth Justice with University of Limerick, in an address about crime networks and children, said that the ages 16 to 18 were the peak ages for young men that offended, and that the “vast majority” of young offenders “grow out of it”.
However a small proportion of all youth offenders were involved in multiple offences and many of these were involved in networks that included adults. Just two per cent of children were responsible for 54 per cent of juvenile crime.
The involvement of children in networks often included family or kinship relationships.