Thursday 23 May 2019

Larger role for advocates urged in rape trials

Noeline Blackwell
Noeline Blackwell
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

The chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) has said that the role of proposed advocates to help alleged rape victims should involve more than accompanying vulnerable complainants to court.

Noeline Blackwell said her organisation was interested in hearing more details of a new advocate role that is under consideration by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan in the wake of the Belfast rape trial.

But she said such an advocate should be able to engage in the court proceedings as well as accompanying victims to court.

The DRCC already provides a volunteer accompaniment service.

"The advocate must mean more than that. Because that happens and it's not enough," Ms Blackwell said.

Mr Flanagan's department is reviewing how rape cases are conducted here after the high-profile trial in Northern Ireland.

In that case, the woman who made the complaint faced questions from four separate legal teams. The case ended in the acquittal of all four defendants, including Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, who were found not guilty of rape.

There have been calls here from campaign groups for complainants in rape cases to be provided with their own legal representation.

Mr Flanagan said this was under consideration as part of the ongoing review but that it could be a "challenge" due to the nature of our legal system.

He said one option under consideration was the introduction of an advocate to attend court and help vulnerable witnesses before, during and after the trial. He stressed that this would be different to legal representation.

A spokesperson for Mr Flanagan last night said it was "too early" to provide further details, saying "it will form part of the review" expected to be finished at the end of the summer.

Ms Blackwell said the difficulty with rape complainants not having legal representation occured particularly in cases where it was "one person's word against the other".

She said this happened in instances where consent was disputed and that the defendant had at least three legal professionals involved in their representation. She said that at the moment a complainant was "not properly represented".

At present, the alleged victim gets legal representation only in limited circumstances where they are being questioned about their sexual history.

Irish Independent

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