Thursday 13 December 2018

Court evidence rules reviewed amid underwear controversy

It comes after a recent rape trial in Co Cork sparked outrage after a defence barrister referred in court to the complainant’s underwear.

A protest at Belfast City Hall amid concerns over how rape trials are conducted in Ireland (Rebecca Black/PA)
A protest at Belfast City Hall amid concerns over how rape trials are conducted in Ireland (Rebecca Black/PA)

By Rebecca Black, Press Association

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said he has commissioned an “eminent person” to examine the rules around evidence in the courts.

There was outrage across the Irish state last week after a recent case in Co Cork saw a defence barrister refer to the 17-year-old complainant’s underwear during a trial, in which a man was acquitted of rape.

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Ruth Coppinger holds up underwear in the Irish parliament chamber to protest against the treatment of alleged rape victims in court (Oireachtas/PA)

The case was brought to wider public attention on Tuesday when TD Ruth Coppinger held up a thong in the parliament chamber to highlight the outrage felt by some sections of the public.

It also sparked a popular social media campaign with women from Ireland and abroad posting pictures of their underwear with the hashtag #Thisisnotconsent.

There were protests in cities and towns across Ireland last week during which thongs and placards were held aloft with the words “this is not consent”.

Mr Varadkar told RTE 1’s This Week In Politics show on Sunday that he has asked an “eminent person” to examine the rules around evidence in court cases.

“Whether you are a man or a woman, if you are a victim of rape or sexual assault, you are never to blame for it. It doesn’t matter what you wear, where you go, who you go with or whether you have taken alcohol or drugs. No one asks to be raped,” he said.

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Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Tom Honan/PA)

“We have asked a very eminent person to examine, particularly around the rules of evidence as to what kind of evidence can or cannot be admitted in court.

“This is an area that absolutely requires examination, we are committed to doing that and we are going to do that. If we need to make changes we will.

“But at the same time, what we can never move away from is that basic democratic idea that someone is innocent until proven guilty, and anyone who is accused is entitled to put forward their defence.

“But perhaps there are ways we can change court rules and procedures under rule of evidence so that people can’t produce some of these defences which I think all of us find quite sickening.”

Press Association

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