Sex crime cases review launched

An independent review into how the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland handles cases of serious sexual offences is now underway.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 24th April 2018, 3:59 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th April 2018, 4:01 pm
Retired appeal court judge Sir John Gillen will lead the review into how serious sexual offence cases are handled in Northern Ireland
Retired appeal court judge Sir John Gillen will lead the review into how serious sexual offence cases are handled in Northern Ireland

The review, commissioned by the Criminal Justice Board, will be led by retired appeal court judge Sir John Gillen.

He will be supported by an advisory panel, which will include victims representatives, academics and legal practitioners.

It comes in the wake of a heated public debate over the nine-week trial of Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson, 26, and Stuart Olding, 25. Both men were last month unanimously acquitted by a jury of raping the same woman.

According to the Department of Justice, the review – which began today – will “consider the law and procedure covering the development and progression of cases of alleged serious sexual offences, taking account of experience from recent cases in Northern Ireland and developments in neighbouring jurisdictions”.

The review is expected to examine the following issues:

disclosure of unused material

support for victims and witnesses

measures to ensure the anonymity of the complainant

the arguments for defendant anonymity

the impact of social media on trials

reporting restrictions

public attendance at trials

It is expected that the review will be completed by January 2019.

Sir John met with representatives of victims’ groups at the Justice Department at Stormont on Tuesday morning to discuss the scope of the review.

He told the BBC that it would be a “balanced inquiry, an inquiry that looks not only at the complainants but also at the rights of the accused as well” and that the review would look at how other jurisdictions deal with serious sexual offence cases.

Sir John added: “I have absolutely no doubt the system that operates in the Republic of Ireland will be closely considered by myself and the advisory panel who will be acting with me.”

He also said that he hoped changes could be implemented despite the current political vacuum in Northern Ireland.

“There’s no doubt that some of the changes that may be envisaged will involve legislation,” he told the BBC.

“But I’m hopeful that the powers that be, would take the necessary steps at the appropriate time to introduce the relevant legislation.”

The retired judge said that while some changes may require legislation, other could be“introduced fairly quickly into the actual process itself.”