Northern Ireland: Review recommends restricted access to rape trials and publicly funded legal advice for complainants
Restricted public access to rape trials and the provision of publicly-funded legal advice to complainants are among the final recommendations of the judge-led review into serious sexual offence trials.
Sir John Gillen, the retired Court of Appeal judge appointed to review the administration of justice in serious sexual offence cases in Northern Ireland, has issued his final report, featuring 253 recommendations.
Other recommendations in the report concern the introduction of legislation to manage the danger of the inappropriate use of social media; the introduction of anonymity for suspects pre-charge; and measures to address the vast under-reporting of serious sexual crime.
Many of the recommendations will require primary legislation, meaning that key recommendations can only be advanced at Westminster in the absence of a functioning Northern Ireland Executive.
Sir John was commissioned to conduct the review early last year in the wake of a controversial nine-week rape trial in Belfast which ended with the acquittal of two high-profile rugby players. A two-month consultation on his draft recommendations concluded in January.
The report was formally presented to the Criminal Justice Board today.
Welcoming the report, Peter May, permanent secretary of the Department of Justice and chair of the Criminal Justice Board, said: “This is an important and ground-breaking report and I commend Sir John for the energy and thought he has put into it.
“I welcome the care and attention to detail which Sir John has applied to this complex and sensitive field and in particular his engagement with a wide range of victims and other groups in developing his recommendations.
“Given the wide-ranging nature of this important report, which covers a broad span of justice issues, the Department and other agencies to which the recommendations apply, will want to take time to carefully study it before formally responding.”
Mr May went on to announce the establishment of a new group which will guide and set the strategic direction of the Department’s work on sexual violence.
He said: “Aspects of sexual violence impact right across the justice system. To ensure a coherent, co-ordinated approach to dealing with sexual violence, the Department has established a Sexual Violence Reduction Group. A key task of the group will be to oversee the implementation of the Gillen Review.”