Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland rape cases increase by over a third in a year

By Gareth Cross

There was a 36.6% increase in the number of people charged or reported for rape in Northern Ireland in 2017/18, compared to the previous year.

The new data came from the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) Statistical Bulletin: Cases Involving Sexual Offences 2017/18.

It comes as the Criminal Justice Board's independent review of the arrangements to deliver justice in serious sexual offence cases. Sir John Gillen is leading the review in the wake of the high-profile rugby rape trial.

In 2017/18 the PPS received files including a total of 1,700 suspects. 567 of these suspects were charged or reported for rape and 1,133 for other sexual offences.

This showed a 36.6% increase for rape offences and a 15.1% increase for sexual offences over the previous year.

The PPS received a total of 1,587 files involving a sexual offence, an increase of 21%.

There was also a rise of 34.2% in the number of files involving a rape offence from 395 to 530. Two-hundred-and-twenty four defendants appeared before the Crown Court in cases involving sexual offences.

The overall conviction rate was 63.8% compared with 73.8% in 2016/17.

Sixty defendants were dealt with in the Crown Court for an offence of rape and 45.0% of these were convicted of at least one offence.

Approximately 15% of defendants were convicted of an offence of rape.

Following the findings the PPS has called for a new collaborative approach to improve conviction rates for sexual offences, including rape.

Assistant Director Marianne O'Kane acknowledged the challenges in prosecuting sexual offence cases.

“Over the last three years the PPS has established a dedicated team of senior public prosecutors who have worked closely with our partners to ensure consistency in best practice procedures to build cases, support victims and ensure that prosecutions are brought robustly, but fairly," she said.

“Against this backdrop we are seeing a significant increase in both the complexity and the volume of cases."

Mrs O'Kane said that the PPS were supporting the independent review into sexual offence cases.

“We consider that a broad criminal justice perspective, combined with inputs from wider society, will be key to achieving positive change. On this basis, we fully support and are contributing to the independent review being undertaken by Sir John Gillen," she said.

"We look forward to hearing the considered responses when his findings are published. In the meantime, we are committed to continuing our work to engage actively with partners in criminal justice and with representatives of victims.”

Mrs O'Kane issued a message to the victims of sexual crime.

“In our view it is vitally important to build an understanding of the PPS approach to dealing with these cases as part of any examination as to how they are handled within the wider justice system," she said.

“Finally, I want to take this opportunity to reassure all victims that at all times we will treat you with respect and sensitivity and that you can be assured of a first class prosecution service.”

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