Gillen review: There is nothing in this to harm fair trials says MLA

There is nothing in the Gillen report which harms people’s ability to protest their innocence said Dolores Kelly, one of its leading political supporters.

Sunday, 19th May 2019, 11:16 am
Sir John Gillen

Nationalist parties and the Alliance have been vocally enthusiastic about the report into reshaping how Northern Irish authorities deal with sex cases, which was a year in the making.

A preliminary draft of it was released late in 2018 to give an idea of Sir John Gillen’s general thinking, before the full and final one – running to 714 pages containing 253 recommendations – was released on May 9.

Sinn Fein’s Linda Dillon MLA had pressed the police about adopting the report’s recommendations before they were even known.

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At the Policing Board meeting in March (the board’s first meeting for two years) she raised the Gillen review as the very first order of business – although the question she posed was literally nonsensical: “Do the PSNI accept the Gillen report recommendations? And does their response to the consultation [during the time the Gillen report was being prepared] reflect this?”

“The Gillen report is not yet published,” came the reply from the Chief Constable.

Once the full and final version of the Gillen report did come out on the morning of May 9, Sinn Fein, Alliance and the SDLP issued statements calling for it to be implemented.

The report recommends barring the public from trials, pre-recorded cross-examinations, extra legal help for complainants, continued publication of defendants’ names, and more.

Whilst warmly welcomed by campaign groups and some political parties, the News Letter has uncovered significant concerns which the legal profession in the Province have about aspects of the report, and two commentators – author Lionel Shriver and leading British QC Chris Daw – have warned of the risk of undermining defendants’ ability to contest their cases.

Mrs Kelly, SDLP justice spokeswoman and vice-chair of Stormont’s anti-sexual violence group, has been arguably the most emphatic of those welcoming the full report.

She insisted that all 253 recommendations must be adopted in total, immediately, without “any cherry picking”.

She tweeted out her comments at 2pm on May 9.

Asked how she had been able to digest a 714-page report with 253 recommendations by 2pm on the day if its release, Mrs Kelly said she had “regular contact with the Gillen report team”, had seen Sir John’s early draft in late 2018, and indicated she already knew the thrust of what the final one was going to say.

Mrs Kelly praised the report’s “victim-centred” nature. And as to whether some measures risk tilting the balance against the defence team she said: “No. I know that has been said in some quarters. There is nothing I don’t believe within the Gillen recommendations that is detrimental to the alleged perpetrator.”

Sir John was “always very mindful of that” she said, adding: “There will always be people who make false claims, and I think how the justice system deals with that... is something they’ve been very strong on”.

Ultimately Sir John’s report contained low-cost measures such as excluding the public from court and tightening up policing of social media which “could make the whole experience better for people who are victims, or alleged victims, I suppose he would say”.

The DUP meanwhile issued a statement, after prompting by the News Letter, saying the report has some “common sense improvements” and it is “in agreement with the broad thrust”.

At time of writing no press release on the matter had been sent to the News Letter from the UUP.