Greater legal protection from 'sexual stereotypes' needed during rape trials: Ivana Bacik

Alleged rape victims must be given greater legal protection during trials to ensure "sexual stereotypes" such as what underwear a woman wears are prevented from being raised.

Labour senator Ivana Bacik said the reforms are needed as a result of the Belfast rugby players rape trial and the recent case of a young woman's underwear being raised as evidence during a recent trial in the Republic.

Speaking to reporters in Leinster House, Ms Bacik said she supports recommended changes in the Northern Ireland courts system to ensure rape cases are held behind-closed-doors or "in camera" to prevent the "horrific sort of trial by entertainment" during the Belfast rugby rape trial.

While the in camera model already exists in the Republic, Ms Bacik said further changes may also be needed in this jurisdiction, saying there are genuine concerns about how rape trials currently operate.

Ms Bacik - who has been Reid professor of criminal law, criminology and penology at Trinity college's law school since 1996 - declined to comment on any specific case when asked if she was concerned about the recent case of a young woman's underwear being shown as evidence during a rape trial in the Republic.

However, noting the legitimate public anger over the way in which alleged rape victims are treated during at times confrontational court hearings, the Labour senator said changes are now needed.

"Tom O Malley is chairing a departmental review due to report to the Irish Government in December, I will be feeding into that review, and my Labour colleagues including Sean Sherlock are drafting legislating to deal specifically saying they should discount sexual stereotypes.

Without commenting on any specific case, clearly reports [of recent cases] would be a concern, and I and others are hugely concerned this would become an issue in jury deliberations.

"One of the things I'll be saying is ensuring complainants have more legal support throughout the trial," Ms Bacik said.

Asked about the Belfast rugby players rape trial and similar changes taking place in response to how the cross-examination of the alleged victim was approached, Ms Bacik added:

"I am certainly supportive of the recommendation of in camera cases [for Northern Ireland], it is well established here in Ireland.

"Members of the public would not have been permitted into the courtroom here in the Republic, we would not have seen the horrific sort of trial by entertainment that we did see in the courtroom, to the distress of the complainant, the family of the complainant and indeed the defendants."

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