Justice Minister calls for 'full-blooded' tactics in rape trials to be re-examined

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has called for strict limits on how alleged rape and sexual assault victims are treated in court after a public backlash over aggressive legal tactics in high-profile cases.

Justice Minister calls for 'full-blooded' tactics in rape trials to be re-examined

By Fiachra Ó Cionnaith, Eoin English, and Caroline O’Doherty

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has called for strict limits on how alleged rape and sexual assault victims are treated in court after a public backlash over aggressive legal tactics in high-profile cases.

Mr Flanagan said that he wants the “full-blooded” defence-team tactics to be re-examined as part of a wider courts review set to be published next month amid warnings that courts are re-abusing victims.

Speaking as the Government launched the second Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland report, which will begin early next year and conclude in 2023, Mr Flanagan said while he recognises the “fundamental constitutional right” to a defence, there are genuine concerns over how people are treated in court.

Noting the national and international furore over revelations that a defence team made reference to the underwear a 17-year-old was wearing in a recent rape trial to defend the accused, he said a system-wide overhaul may now be needed.

In a statement to the Irish Examiner last night, a spokesperson for Mr Flanagan said: “The minister acknowledges the fundamental constitutional right of a person accused of a criminal offence to defence themselves. However, he also strongly believes the rights of complainants in sexual offence cases must also be protected.

The minister is in principle in favour of the introduction of protocols and specialist training for members of the legal profession.

While stressing that any changes are ultimately a decision for Tom O’Malley, the chair of the Government’s courts review, the spokesperson noted Mr Flanagan’s comments on RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live programme on Monday night, when he hit out at the “full-blooded defence” tactics in some cases and called for new “protocols” to be introduced.

Mr Flanagan confirmed the O’Malley review will examine if the identities of defendants in rape cases should remain anonymous.

The second Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report follows the initial SAVI report in 2003.

Between now and 2023, the SAVI report will undertake a comprehensive national survey on the prevalence of sexual violence. It will have an initial €150,000 budget next year before subsequent funding of €1m a year is made available.

The nationwide survey will be used to underscore reforms in sexual assault-related services. It will be undertaken by Central Statistics Office officials with “specialist training”.

Maeve Lewis, executive director of the One in Four survivors’ group, said the SAVI report is needed to ensure “accurate data in order to plan for services and understand why sexual violence is the most under-reported crime in this society”.

While also welcoming the step, the CSO said the survey will, out of necessity, involve “sensitive” questions on difficult subjects.

Meanwhile, a separate review in Northern Ireland called for major reforms in how the judicial system in the province approaches rape cases in the aftermath of the Belfast rugby rape trial controversy.

It also emerged as a leading campaigner said a 48% rise in reported rapes in Cork City since the start of the year shows that people are becoming more willing to come forward if they are attacked.

Mary Crilly, director of the Sexual Violence Centre in Cork, said the fact 49 rapes have been reported to gardaí so far this year — up from 33 for the same period last year — doesn’t mean that rape is on the rise.

“I think it’s a sign also that people are saying enough is enough and feel more confident in reporting rape to the gardaí,” Ms Crilly told members of the Cork City joint policing committee.

This story was amended on November 21, 2018

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