herald

Friday 14 December 2018

Defendants lose automatic right to cross-examine victims of rape

Minister Charlie Flanagan
Minister Charlie Flanagan

Rape victims are to receive greater protection in court due to a change in the law.

The reforms mean that defendants have lost their automatic right to cross-examine victims.

It significantly reduces the possibility of a rape victim being quizzed in court by their alleged attacker.

The prospect of being challenged by defendants has been blamed by some campaigners for deterring rape victims from coming forward to report attacks.

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has also signed orders bringing in changes that give victims of crime the option of giving testimony behind a screen or by video-link.

This option was previously only available to complainants in trials involving sexual or violent crime.

These measures are separate from anything that may emerge from a review by Mr Flanagan of how rape cases are conducted here in the wake of the Belfast rape trial earlier this year.

That case ended in the acquittal of Ireland and Ulster rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding, both of whom had been charged with rape.

Mr Flanagan said the Northern Ireland trial "resulted in great anxiety across the country".

Vulnerable

He said that he expected to have the review finished by the end of the summer.

Mr Flanagan told the Herald that the changes introduced in recent days must be seen against the background of "what is a very adversarial courts system in Ireland".

He said this system saw the State pitched against the defendant and meant that vulnerable complainants and witnesses needed to be supported, "particularly in cases of a sexual nature".

Under the new procedures, defendants in rape and other sex cases who choose to act as their own legal representatives no longer have the automatic right to directly cross-examine their alleged victim.

Instead, it is now up to the judge to decide if this will be allowed, with free legal aid being offered to defendants who have been refused permission to conduct cross-examinations themselves.

There are new regulations on the use of sensitive counselling records in sexual-offence trials.

Mr Flanagan said this was an "important new safeguard", which would ensure that the appropriateness of disclosing such information may be considered at a pre-trial hearing that would take into account the impact it may have on complainants.

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