Belfast Telegraph

Community to get a greater voice in sex trials: report

By Anne Madden

A victim of the paedophile brothers who were controversially allowed to return to their Co Fermanagh home has welcomed a new report which could see communities given a greater voice in sex abuse trials.

The report from the Criminal Justice Inspectorate found that courts need to make improvements to how they engage with local people.

It was commissioned after James and Owen-Roe McDermott were allowed to return to Donagh, the Co Fermanagh village where they carried out 30 years of sex abuse, after being judged mentally unfit to stand trial.

There was a huge public outcry earlier this year at the brothers’ return to the scene of their crimes.

The report recommended a study on whether Community Impact Assessments — statements in which local residents could outline their concerns to courts — should be introduced in Northern Ireland.

A victim of the McDermott brothers who didn’t wish to be named said: “It's fantastic — it takes the victims into consideration where, at the moment they're not taken into consideration.

“The court system is a very cold process, you're brought in, you give your statement in the box, you leave the box, then it's thank you very much, the court will take it from here,” he said.

“This report recognises that this is the way things are done and, hopefully, will be a catalyst for change in the future.”

SDLP MLA and justice committee member Conall McDevitt said he wanted to see the community impact assessments introduced as an amendment to the Justice Bill currently going through the Assembly.

“The report highlights serious cultural issues, particularly in the way the criminal justice system communicates with victims,” he said.

Northern Ireland Justice Minister David Ford stressed that even if Community Impact Assessments were introduced the judge would still make a decision balancing all evidence before the court.

“The report finds that, although considerable efforts were made by individuals within the justice sector to explain the legal position and the possible implications, a significant gap arose in this particular case between the outcome expected by all of the agencies involved and the expectations of the Donagh community,” he said.

“I accept that we should look afresh at how the justice system engages with victims and local communities.”

The minister said work has already begun to tackle the issue.

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