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Thursday 21 June 2018

Rape trials should use pre-recorded video 'to spare alleged victims'

Caroline Counihan of Rape Crisis Network Ireland
Caroline Counihan of Rape Crisis Network Ireland

A multi-agency report into how cases of alleged sexual violence are conducted has called for pre-recorded cross-examination to be introduced to improve victim support.

The report, compiled by a group of experts including gardai and the Rape Crisis Network Ireland (RCNI), has recommended that new statutory provisions are introduced to allow such evidence to be made admissible.

It comes after the lengthy cross-examination of the complainant in the Belfast rugby rape trial was heavily criticised, with the report described as "timely" by the RCNI.

The lengthy finding puts forward a number of recommendations outlining a new strategy for vulnerable victims in legal proceedings.

It includes suggestions that pre-trial hearings should be placed on a statutory footing and that "special measures" should also be available to vulnerable accused persons.

A key finding in the report is that pre-recording cross-examination should be piloted, with new statutory provisions introduced to provide for it.

This is already used in certain cases in the UK, but is inadmissible in this jurisdiction and is not provided for under the Criminal Justice Sexual Offences Act 2017.

It would involve counsel for the defence cross-examining the complainant in a private setting before a trial, with a video recording later being played to the jury.

Trauma

Caroline Counihan, RCNI's legal director, said that pre-recording of such evidence to be used in court would help reduce the risk of secondary trauma to the victim.

"Pre-recording a garda statement soon after a complaint has been made maximises the potential of the witness to recall, fully and accurately, what happened, to give his or her best evidence and to help minimise the risk of secondary traumatisation by reducing exposure to the adversarial criminal justice process itself," she said.

"In our view, it is time that the limitations of the live-evidence-only approach - often months or years after the alleged crime took place - were addressed.

Ms Counihan said the advancement of technology has improved the possibility of pre-recorded statements and cross-examination being used in criminal trials.

"Our criminal justice system is based on the premise that face-to-face live evidence at trial is the best evidence which can be obtained," she said.

"Modern psychological research does not support this conclusion, particularly since the advent of high resolution pre-recorded video and video-link solutions."

The report, entitled Hearing Every Voice: Towards A New Strategy On Vulnerable Witnesses In Legal Proceedings, will be launched this evening at the Bar Council of Ireland.

In total, 33 recommendations have been made on how the justice system can better serve victims during a court case.

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