Call for accused anonymity in rape trials

Call for accused anonymity in rape trials

Defendants should remain anonymous in rape trials unless they are convicted, according to the Bar Council of Ireland, a view supported by the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland (RCNI).

In a submission to an expert group reviewing the protection of vulnerable witnesses in sexual offence cases, the representative body of barristers in Ireland maintains that we should not follow the procedure in the North where anyone facing a sexual offence charge is automatically identified.

The review was ordered by Justice Minster Charlie Flanagan after the Belfast rape trial, where former international rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were acquitted of sexual offences.

A separate review north of the border by a former lord justice of appeal, John Gillen, recommended that the present system in the North remain in place whereby defendants are named after being formally charged.

“Notwithstanding that recommendation by Lord Gillen for Northern Ireland, the council believes that the present system in this jurisdiction contains an appropriate balance in that accused persons may be named if they are convicted, albeit subject to statutory restrictions to protect the complainant’s privacy,” says the Bar Council’s submission.

“The council does not believe that naming accused persons pre-trial would increase reporting of sexual offences.”

The Bar Council’s view on anonymity is shared by the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland, the umbrella body for rape crises centres.

“We would be in broad agreement,” said Cliona Saidléar, RCNI executive director.

“Ireland is a small community where somebody knows everyone. If the name of the accused is put out there, the danger is that victims could be identified.”

The Bar Council is also highly critical of what it says are “unacceptable” delays in trials for sexual offences, with some cases only getting underway three years after the defendant is charged.

At present, if a defendant’s lawyer wants to cross-examine a complainant about their sexual history, they must make an application to the judge and the complainant is entitled to legal representation.

The Bar Council says this can result in delays to trials and says the use of pre-trial hearings to deal with certain applications could help shorten trials.

The RCNI commended the Bar Council for its submission.

“We particularly welcome that the Bar Council, who represent the very people who may need to make changes to their professional conduct, are leading with recommending these changes,” said Dr Saidléar.

“In making these recommendations not only are they pursuing best evidence and justice but they are recognising that justice must not be unnecessarily traumatic on the complainant.

“The Rape Crisis Network of Ireland commend the Bar council for honing in on delay and changing how we manage court cases to help reduce this unacceptable and traumatic delay.

“We believe change is necessary. That change is eminently possible when the very people whose professional roles and practices may need to alter, are prepared to lead that change.”

The council also says that new legislation to deal with contempt of court and the use of social media in court may be required.

Rape Crisis Network supports legal expertise of Bar Council

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