Monday 19 August 2019

Consent issue hits sex crime prosecutions

DPP says difficulty proving lack of consent is making it hard to bring sex criminals to justice

CLAIM: DPP’s Claire Loftus
CLAIM: DPP’s Claire Loftus
Wayne O'Connor

Wayne O'Connor

Difficulty in proving consent was not present when a sexual offence occurs, hinders prosecutions being brought against the alleged perpetrators of such crimes, according to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

It comes as she said the number of requests to review decisions in sexual offence cases, and justify when there are no prosecutions brought, is disproportionately high compared to other crimes.

Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus moved to defend her office when speaking at the National Prosecutors' Conference yesterday.

She said the complexity of sexual offence cases and a level of personal interest in them must be considered factors in why reviews and explanations are requested more often in these cases than compared with any other crime.

Sexual offence cases represent 42pc of all review requests received by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

These offences also represent 38pc of requests for reasons a decision has been made to not prosecute. This is despite sexual offence cases making up just 17pc of the total number of files received by the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions every year.

Ms Loftus said the "disproportionately high proportion of requests for reasons and review decisions" can be explained by sexual offences being the most serious type of criminal offence after fatal cases.

"The prosecution rate for sexual offence complaints is comparatively low," Ms Loftus added.

"In almost all cases there is no witness to the offence itself apart from the complainant. Where adults are concerned there may be no dispute that some sexual activity happened but rather it is a question of whether there is sufficient evidence that there was an absence of consent on the part of the complainant."

Ms Loftus said receiving evidence from someone under the age of 17 in child sex cases also poses a challenge.

"In other cases involving children there may be public interest factors at play which mean that in particular circumstances the public interest does not require a prosecution of the other party to the sexual activity who is also a child. These decisions are often finely balanced and require very careful consideration.

"However, we can and do reverse a decision not to prosecute in sexual offence cases where, upon review, a lawyer feels that a prosecution is sustainable and that it is in the public interest to bring it. The number of decisions that have been overturned to date has been very small, 2pc of the total request for reviews in all offence categories. It does nonetheless demonstrate, I hope, that the right to review now enshrined in domestic legislation has meaning."

Speaking at Dublin Castle yesterday, Ms Loftus also addressed the commencement of the new Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act. The Act will come into effect tomorrow. Ms Loftus hopes it will help raise awareness of protections available to victims from various agencies operating in the criminal justice system.

She said the Government's prioritisation of the Criminal Procedure Bill will also benefit victims by addressing what happens before a trial.

"Pre-trial hearings, if operated in an effective way, could have a profound impact on both the efficiency and expense of the trial process. Pre-trial hearings would also improve the experience of victims who frequently are brought to the brink of giving evidence and then find their trial is delayed, even for a number of days, because of legal issues.

"The final form of the provision on pre-trial hearings remains to be seen, but I hope it will have sufficient robustness to make a meaningful difference to the processing of all indictable cases through the courts."

Sunday Independent

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