Sentencing of an army instructor convicted by a court martial of sexually assaulting a female recruit has been adjourned to allow a military judge to consider a restorative justice process that took place between the solider and his victim earlier this month.
The non-commissioned officer was found guilty of sexually assaulting a female trainee by cupping her breast with his hand during a demonstration of first aid techniques following a three-day trial last August.
The location and date of the offence cannot be published due to reporting restrictions.
The soldier, who cannot be identified for the same reason, was also found guilty of conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline contrary to Section 168 of the Defence Act 1954 for placing his groin on the back of his victim during the demonstration while remarking: “I would not stand like that as it looks wrong.”
The accused, who has served in the Defence Forces for more than 30 years, had denied all charges, including another one of making an inappropriate comment during the same first aid training exercise for which he was found not guilty.
The accused had remarked: “She has certainly done that before” when another female recruit pretended to remove a shirt from a mannequin during the training session.
A social worker with the Defence Forces’ Personnel Support Services, Majella Hickey, told a sitting of the court martial at McKee Barracks in Dublin on Friday that the victim and the soldier had participated in a recent restorative justice process.
Ms Hickey said the accused had apologised for what he had done and had shown insight into his behaviour.
She described how she had five one-hour meetings with each party on their own before they got to meet each other.
“The process facilitated healing by allowing a face-to-face meeting,” said Ms Hickey.
She told the court the victim and the accused had met formally for one and a half hours and continued the meeting on an informal basis for a similar period.
Counsel for the instructor, David Staunton BL, said the restorative justice process had been exemplary and had allowed his client to make a full and unequivocal admission of the harm he had done as well as affording him insight into his behaviour.
Pleading for leniency Mr Staunton said the incident had had a devastating impact on the soldier and his family as well as the victim.
Mr Staunton said his client had paid a heavy price and had placed himself in a highly shameful position where he had to disclose to many people what had happened.
He said the soldier had been “walking under a cloud” for many years in both his personal and professional life.
As someone who was a “dyed in the wool” military man, the criminal justice process had been a huge strain, said Mr Staunton.
However, the military judge, Judge Michael Campion, remarked that the cloud had been one of the soldier’s own making.
The barrister said the instructor had also learned not to allow himself to give similar training demonstrations to female soldiers again.
“From the day it happened, he was acutely aware he should never allow himself to be in a situation where this could happen,” said Mr Staunton.
He added: “He made a grave mistake and he learnt very quickly and has dealt with matters appropriately ever since.”
Counsel for the Director of Military Prosecutions, Commandant Noel Conway, BL, expressed concern the defence was straying outside the jurisdiction of the court by addressing “systemic issues.”
Judge Campion said systemic issues were not a matter for the court and he would not comment on them.
The judge said he would adjourn the finalisation of sentencing in the case until March in order to consider what he said was “an unusual case”.
The court martial heard the sanction of a reduction in rank would affect the soldier’s pension entitlements.
Cmdt Conway pointed out that the accused could apply for discharge on the basis of his length of service which could undermine sanctions being considered by the judge.