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Prosecution rate has dropped for sexual offences across Northern Ireland

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Question: Mervyn Storey

Question: Mervyn Storey

Question: Mervyn Storey

Fewer people are being prosecuted for sexual offences in Northern Ireland, figures show.

The prosecution rate has fallen from 31.2% to 23.9% in the space of four years.

And of the cases that do make it to court, just over half result in a conviction. Of the 356 prosecutions in 2018, just 194 (54.5%) led to the accused being convicted.

Victim Support NI said "significant issues still stand in the way of sexual violence victims seeking justice in Northern Ireland".

The figures were released by Justice Minister Naomi Long after an Assembly question from DUP MLA Mervyn Storey.

The figures, largely based on those compiled by the Public Prosecution Service (PPS), reveal that the number of offences recorded increased from 2,030 in 2015/16 to 3,547 in 2018/19.

Charges were brought in 8.9% of cases, down from 13.1% in 2015/16, while the prosecution rate dropped from 31.2% to 23.9% over the same period.

Overall in 2018, there were 356 prosecutions, resulting in 194 convictions.

The main reasons for not proceeding were due to lack of evidence, including that the victim did not support an action, or that no suspect was identified.

In 2018 there were "evidential difficulties" in 16.9% of cases where the victim supported action and 29.8% of cases where the victim did not support action. In 13.3% of cases, an investigation was completed without a suspect being identified.

Last year a report by retired judge Sir John Gillen examined how the criminal justice system here deals with serious sexual offence cases. He made 250 recommendations, including limiting public access to trials, on rules relating to cross-examination and establishing publicly funded independent legal representation for complainants.

Mr Storey said: "It is wrong that victims of sexual crime often feel unable to support court action or withdraw from the system before investigations have run their course. We need to promote greater confidence, better accessibility and a more victim-centred approach, whether it be recording evidence, the format of court proceedings, invasion of privacy or a lack of specific advice and support."

Last October, head of the PPS serious crime unit Ciaran McQuillan said: "The PPS remains fully committed to playing our part in the broader criminal justice change required to improve outcomes for victims of sexual offending, while ensuring prosecutions are conducted fairly. We acknowledge this remains a difficult area, not least victims who show such bravery in coming forward, but there are clear signs of progress."

Belfast Telegraph