Friday 18 January 2019

Rape trials should use pre-recorded cross-examinations, says new report

Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding (Niall Carson/PA)
Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding (Niall Carson/PA)
Robin Schiller

Robin Schiller

A MULTI-AGENCY report into how sexual assault cases are conducted has called for pre-recorded cross-examinations to be introduced to improve victim support.

The report, compiled by a group of experts including gardaí and the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), has recommended that new statutory provisions are introduced to allow such evidence to be admissible.

It comes after the lengthy cross-examination of the complainant in the Belfast rape trial was heavily criticised, with the report described as “timely” by RCNI.

The report, ‘Hearing Every Voice – Towards a New Strategy on Vulnerable Witnesses in Legal Proceedings’, makes a number of recommendations and outlines a new strategy for vulnerable victims in legal proceedings.

It includes suggestions that pre-trial hearings should be placed on a statutory footing and “special measures” should also be available to vulnerable accused persons.

A key finding is that pre-recording cross-examinations should be piloted, with new statutory provisions introduced to provide for it.

This is already used in certain cases in the UK, but is inadmissible in this jurisdiction and is not provided for under the Criminal Justice Sexual Offences Act 2017.

It would involve counsel for the defence cross-examining the complainant in a private setting before a trial, with a video recording of the cross-examination being played to the jury later.

Caroline Counihan, RCNI’s legal director, said pre-recording such evidence would reduce the risk of secondary trauma to the victim.

She said advances in technology had improved the possibility of pre-recorded statements and cross-examination being used in a criminal trial.

“Our criminal justice system is based on the premise that face-to-face live evidence at trial is the best evidence which can be obtained.

“Modern psychological research does not support this conclusion, particularly since the advent of high-resolution pre-recorded video and video-link solutions,” Ms Counihan said.

“Pre-recording a Garda statement soon after a complaint has been made maximises the potential of the witness to recall, fully and accurately, what happened, to give his or her best evidence and to help minimise the risk of secondary traumatisation by reducing exposure to the adversarial criminal justice process itself.

“In our view, it is time that the limitations of the live evidence only approach – often months or years after the alleged crime took place – were addressed.”

Cliona Saidlear, director of RCNI, said the recent Belfast rape trial highlighted how difficult the criminal justice system can be on witnesses.

“We know that we can make it better and that vulnerable witnesses can have a less traumatising experience in giving vital evidence,” she said.

Irish Independent

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