People who report being a victim of a sex offences are most likely to seek reasons from the Director of Public Prosecutions as to why nobody was prosecuted for the crimes against them.
They are also most likely to seek a review of the decision not to prosecute although the percentage of cases were a decision is overturned following a review is tiny in all types of crime.
Under new victims’ rights introduced two years ago, anyone who has suffered because of a crime where an investigation results in a file going to the DPP but no prosecution results, is entitled to find out why and to have a review if the reasons are unsatisfactory to them.
More than 1,100 people formally requested an explanation for the lack of charges in their case between November 2015 and the end of last month, of which 38% related to sexual offences.
A further 24% related to assaults and other non-fatal offences against the person, while 15% were classified as theft and fraud. Offences involving fatalities — such as murder, manslaughter and dangerous driving causing death — accounted for 9% of the requests.
In her annual report, DPP Claire Loftus revealed that 1,180 people had requested reasons over the two years, of which 136 were declined because they related to cases that predated the introduction of the new rights or because providing an answer might prejudice a related court case or future proceedings. Reasons were given in 977 cases and 67 others were awaiting answers.
Fewer than half those who sought reasons for a decision sought a review of that decision. Of the 418 who looked for reviews, the decision was overturned in just eight cases and three of those cases related to one incident.
While request numbers are significant given how recent the new rights are, they are modest compared to the number of cases where no prosecution results.
The annual report shows 13,180 prosecution files were received by the DPP’s office last year — more than 50 every week day. In 40% or 4,567 of the 11,224 files disposed of in the same period, it was directed there should be no prosecution.
That figure fell slightly from 42% in 2015 and 45% in 2014. Insufficient evidence was the reason given in 80% of those cases but other prosecutions failed to materialise because of reasons such as the victim withdrew their complaint, there was undue delay in bringing the case or it was deemed not in the public interest to proceed.
In 29% of cases, the direction was given to prosecute in the district court while 30% were referred for prosecution on indictment, meaning to the higher circuit, central and Special Criminal Courts. Conviction rates in those courts ran at 69% in 2015. The 2016 figures are not yet available.
A breakdown of the number of prosecutions on indictment per county shows that, per head of population, Dublin, Limerick and Longford produced the most prosecutions last year while Leitrim, Offaly, Kildare and Donegal produced the least. Dublin, the highest, produced three-and-a-half times more prosecutions than Leitrim, the lowest.
The DPP applied to the Court of Appeal for review of the sentences imposed in 56 cases last year on grounds they were too lenient. Of the 35 appeals heard, 16 resulted in the sentence being increased, the lowest successful appeal rate in 10 years.
The DPP also advises the gardaí on requests for mutual assistance from other countries in criminal investigations or criminal proceedings. Mutual assistance requests doubled in two years, from 201 in 2014 to 395 last year, much of which was due to the crackdown on gangland activities involving criminals moving between Ireland and abroad.
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