Review of handling of sexual violence cases in North begins

Calls for reform of system followed trial of rugby players Paddy Jackson, Stuart Olding

A review of how cases of sexual violence in Northern Ireland are handled comes after widespread calls for reform of the system following the rape trial of rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who were found not guilty. Photographs: Niall Carson/PA Wire

A review of how cases of sexual violence in Northern Ireland are handled comes after widespread calls for reform of the system following the rape trial of rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who were found not guilty. Photographs: Niall Carson/PA Wire

 

An independent review into the way cases of sexual violence are dealt with by the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland has begun.

Sir John Gillen, a retired judge, is leading the review which comes after widespread calls for reform of the North’s criminal justice system following the rape trial of rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

The two were last month acquitted of raping the same woman in June 2016 with Jackson also cleared of sexual assault. Two of their friends, who faced related charges, were also found not guilty.

Sir John will be assisted by an advisory panel, which will include victims representatives, academics and lawyers. He has been asked to report to the Criminal Justice Board – which includes the Lord Chief Justice, the PSNI’s chief constable and the director of public prosecutions – by January 2019.

Recent cases

Stormont’s justice department said the review would consider the law and procedure covering the development and progression of cases of alleged serious sexual offences, taking account of experience from recent cases in the North and developments in neighbouring jurisdictions.

Among the issues to be examined are supports for victims and witnesses; measures to ensure the anonymity of the complainant; the arguments for defendant anonymity; the impact of social media on trials; reporting restrictions; the disclosure of unused material and public attendance at trials.

Serious consideration

Sir John has said some possible changes may require legislation and others “may be introduced fairly quickly into the actual process itself”.

He will be giving serious consideration to the law in the Republic which provides anonymity to not only complainants in rape cases but also defendants.

“The system that operates in the Republic of Ireland would be closely considered by myself and the advisory panel who will be acting with me,” he told the BBC. “Serious consideration will be given to that.”

Geraldine Hanna, chief executive of Victim Support NI, welcomed the fact the review will take into account suggestions from all relevant criminal justice agencies and that victims’ organisations will be included. She said this will ensure that the voice of the victim is fully represented in this debate. “As we and our partner organisations, Women’s Aid Federation NI, Nexus NI and Men’s Advisory Project stated in our open letter to the press last week, the current system does not work well for victims, and now is the time for change.