Judiciary to review rape trials after Jackson-Olding case

Paddy Jackson (left) and Stuart Olding were dismissed by both the IRFU and Ulster despite being acquitted of rape following a nine-week trial in Belfast
Paddy Jackson (left) and Stuart Olding were dismissed by both the IRFU and Ulster despite being acquitted of rape following a nine-week trial in Belfast

The judge who presided over the trial of Ireland and Ulster Rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding is being consulted on how rape trials in Northern Ireland are conducted.

Last month, both players were unanimously acquitted by a jury of raping the same woman at Jackson’s Belfast home in June 2016.

The trial was covered extensively in the media, leading to concerns that many rape victims would be deterred from reporting attacks.

Others expressed concerns that the defendants were being simultaneously tried on social media, and that their reputations were being diminished by the level of detail about their private WhatsApp messages entering the public domain.

Despite being acquitted by the jury, both men had their IRFU and Ulster contracts terminated as a result of the lewd and derogatory messages sent between the players.

Judge Patricia Smyth, who oversaw the nine-week trial, is one of a number of senior judges being consulted by the lord chief justice (LCJ) about potential legal reforms.

A spokeswoman for the LCJ said: “The lord chief justice is aware of the issues raised by the recent high-profile trial. He has begun discussions with the trial judge and other senior Crown Court judges to consider whether there are any steps the courts can take that do not require legislation to deal with some of the issues.”

Earlier this week, Victim Support NI (VSNI) wrote to both the justice department and the LCJ setting out a number of reasons why “now is the time to take action”.

Geraldine Hanna of VSNI said: “Recent increased public interest in the criminal justice system and how victims/survivors of sexual crime are treated is to be welcomed as an opportunity to bring to light and respond to concerns that we, as organisations who work directly with and for victims/survivors of sexual crime, have held for many years.

“While there have been changes within the system, driven by a greater understanding of the impact sexual crime has on individuals, there is still a considerable way to go.”

Ms Hanna went on to say that “no review should be completed without victims/survivors’ voices,” and added: “We have requested that the review body should include representatives of victim-centred organisations who are acutely aware of how the system is experienced by victims/survivors.”

More than 200 people joined a Belfast Feminist Network protest outside Ulster’s stadium at Ravenhill ahead of last Friday’s match with Ospreys.

Meanwhile, fans of Ulster Rugby are being consulted on what protest action, if any, to take following the sacking of the players.

Many supporters were outraged at the dismissals – accusing the club of acting unfairly by bowing to pressure from sponsors.

However, Ulster chief executive Shane Logan has rejected claims the club’s decision was driven by money rather than ethics.