Thursday 23 October 2014

Your case won't be heard until November 2015, rape complainants told

Michael Staines

Published 26/07/2014 | 02:30

Chief Justice Susan Denham had warned of the pressures on courts
Chief Justice Susan Denham had warned of the pressures on courts

RAPE crisis organisations have warned that complainants of sexual violence are being failed by the system as a result of delays in the length of time it takes for a trial to come before the courts.

The Irish Independent has learned that earlier this month four rape trials were before the courts twice in the space of a week, but were then put back until after November 2015.

All four were ready to go ahead. However, there was no judge available to hear the evidence.

One of the cases involves a woman with mental disabilities who was allegedly raped after becoming separated from her mother.

News of the delays come after Chief Justice Susan Denham warned that any further reductions to the Courts Service budget would cause "great and lasting damage" to the system.

Cliona Saidlear, spokeswoman for the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), said that it took a huge amount of courage for a complainant to come to court.

"According to our research, one of the biggest causes of cases dropping out of the system is the length of time it takes for them to be heard," she said.

"It takes an awful lot to prepare yourself for that moment. To go into court and to get into that building . . . and then for that to be put back another 15 months, it is an awful lot to ask of a survivor."

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice said that under the Constitution judges were appointed by the President on the advice of the Government.

Judges

Six new judges have been appointed to the Court of Criminal Appeal. However, these judges do not hear new trials.

When asked if more judges would be appointed to help cope with the backlog of criminal cases before the courts, the department did not respond.

The Irish Independent has learned that a number of the defendants in the four cases which were adjourned until next year are in custody awaiting trial and will remain there until the cases are heard.

"It is absolutely outrageous that anybody should be remanded in custody while presumed innocent for two-and-a-half years, awaiting trial," said a senior legal source.

"In fact, in rape cases the acquittal rate is very high so you might find a guy who has been in custody for two-and-a-half years and then gets acquitted."

Helen Mortimer, executive director of the Galway Rape Crisis Centre, said that cases involving sexual violence should be dealt with as early as possible and in a consistent manner.

"To me there needs to be a root and branch review of how survivors are treated in the courts having experienced any form of sexual violence or rape," she said.

The Rape Crisis Centre runs a 24-hour national helpline on 1800 77 88 88.

Irish Independent

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