Thursday 16 August 2018

Fianna Fáil seeking change in law to give rape complainants access to legal representation during a trial

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said he intends to “review” how such trials are conducted here

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan. Photo: Gareth Chaney, Collins
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

FIANNA Fáil is to seek a change in the law to give rape complainants access to legal representation during a trial.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has said he intends to “review” how such trials are conducted here in the wake of the Belfast rape case. It will include the question of whether complainants should have their own legal representative.

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan branded Mr Flanagan’s plan for a review as “non-committal”.

Concerns have been raised about how such trials are carried out after the case in Belfast where the woman who made the complaint faced questions from four separate legal teams.

That 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.

Mr O’Callaghan, meanwhile, said there was public concern over whether there was enough support in place for complainants in rape and sexual assault trials and that the issue should be prioritised.

He said the system in the Republic was more advanced than in Northern Ireland, but he added: “We must recognise that we need to strengthen supports available to complainants whilst at the same time not undermining the right that an accused has to defend himself.”

Mr O’Callaghan said that Fianna Fáil would bring forward legislation to amend the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Act 2017 when the Dáil returned after its Easter break.

He said that the proposed change would see a complainant entitled to request separate legal representation during the prosecution of cases where the alleged offence involves sexual violence, gender-based violence, or violence in a close relationship. This legal representation would be paid for by the State.

A Department of Justice spokesman insisted Mr Flanagan’s review was starting the review “immediately”, with the minister to consult with “all stakeholders, particularly those representing victims”.

He said legal advice for complaints ias available in “certain limited circumstances”. This is in instances where the complainant’s sexual history is being raised in a case.

Mr Flanagan wants to examine if provision of legal advice can be extended.

His review is to examine existing legislation and maintaining the integrity of the trial process, among other areas.

Mr O’Callaghan said another priority should be to get updated data on the extent of sexual violence in Ireland. Mr Flanagan has indicated that he wants an update of the Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland (SAVI) report.

Online Editors

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Also in this section