Unlikely women would face prosecution over benefits rape claim but guarantees can't be given: PPS director McGrory
'I can't future-proof any of these issues'
Northern Ireland director of prosecutions Barra McGrory has said it would be "highly unlikely" a woman would be prosecuted for revealing she was raped in order to claim child benefits, but couldn't guarantee it.
Under new government rules child benefits will not be paid out for a third child unless it was conceived in the case of rape.
The change has caused controversy in Northern Ireland as it is an offence not to report a serious crime and there are fears those women who did not report a sexual assault could end up facing jail.
Labour shadow Northern Ireland secretary Owen Smith raised the matter in the Commons. He produced a letter from the outgoing Public Prosecution Service Director.
The Labour MP said Mr McGrory stated in the letter: "It is a potential offence to withhold information regarding an act of rape."
Speaking on the BBC Stephen Nolan show, Mr McGrory said he "wished the letter had not been used" as it referred to a specific case.
"He did not publish the letter which he wrote to me," Mr McGrory said.
"The letter asked if I could give any guarantees in the context of a disclosure of a rape in relation to a benefit disclosure.
"No reasonable prosecutor can future guarantee there will be no prosecution when an offense exists.
"What I did say was that this was a very complex issue and there had never been a prosecution of a woman who latterly disclosed she had been raped."
Mr McGrory said there were several safety guards in place and it would be highly unlikely there would ever be a prosecution. But while there was a "degree of flexibility" in the law it was "much more complex" in Northern Ireland than in Britain.
He said he was concerned over the "scaremongering" around the issue and wanted to "clarify some concerns people may have".
"The law allows for a potential prosecution of an individual for withholding information about a serious criminal offence carrying a sentence of over five years - which of course rape is one.
"But it also only allows for such a prosecution if there is no reasonable excuse for withholding that information. And of course, one would expect that in the vast majority, if not all cases, if a woman discloses she has been raped many years ago and in the context of a benefits situation, that one would look at the reasonable excuse around that.
"Many women do not complain about rape at the time for all sorts of good reasons close to the time it has happened."
Mr McGrory said the law was not necessarily out of date in relation to the matter as there were "plenty of safety nets" to prevent such cases reaching court including considerations made on if a case would be in the interest of the public to take.
A midwife told by a woman she had been raped would be "unlikely" to face prosecution, Mr McGrory added.
"But you can not give guarantees in any context, every case has to be assessed," he said.
Belfast Telegraph Digital