WOMEN’S rights campaigners have expressed concern after it was revealed that there was a 37% drop in the number of rape cases that came before the courts last year.
The Courts Service annual report showed that in addition to the drop in cases coming before a judge, there was also a fall in the number of minor sexual offences dealt with at District Court level, although the figure is still significantly higher than those in the years from 2005 to 2007.
According to the report, while 49 new cases came before the Central Criminal Court last year, 52 cases in total were disposed of; 18 guilty pleas were entered; another 25 went before a jury with three life sentences imposed along with five sentences of 12 years and 13 sentences of between five and 12 years. In 12 cases there was an acquittal.
Experts have consistently suggested that there is serious under-reporting of rapes and sexual assaults, and yesterday the Rape Crisis Network’s legal director, Caroline Counihan, said the figures needed to be analysed to see if women were dropping out of the process.
“We have to look at the rate of attrition and at what stage these cases were discontinued,” she said.
Ms Counihan said any fall could be down to a number of possible factors, from reduced budgets available to gardaí and the Director of Public Prosecutions, to the difficulty in getting a conviction in contested proceedings, and even withdrawal from the process by women, sometimes because of intimidation.
She said: “It could be simply about delay, due to straitened resources, for example. No one has been in receipt of more resources.”
Ms Counihan added that the publication of the Ryan and Murphy reports last year might have prompted more people to come forward, leading to a delay in cases being processed.
There was also a decrease in the number of applications for interim barring orders, down 12% from 623 to 545. Applications for barring orders and protection orders also fell, while regarding orders granted under domestic violence legislation there was a 6% fall.
Meanwhile, there was a slight fall in the number of offences carried out by children last year.
Nearly 47% of all offences were struck out, a similar figure to that for 2008, while there was a 19% increase in the number of fines imposed in cases involving children.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved