Belfast Telegraph

Review into conduct of rape trials to be announced in wake of rugby case

By Victoria Leonard

An independent judge-led review into how Northern Ireland's criminal justice system handles serious sexual offences is expected to be announced by the Department of Justice (DOJ) within the next week.

The review follows concerns over the recent rape trial involving former Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding.

Mr Jackson and Mr Olding were acquitted of raping the same woman after a nine-week trial that ended last month.

However, the trial raised concerns over the treatment of complainants and defendants, the use of social media during trials and the PSNI's handling of the case.

Earlier this week, victim support groups came together to call for a review.

It is believed that the independent review will be led by a judge but will also feature an advisory group of victims' representatives, academics and legal experts. It will report to the Criminal Justice Board early next year, according to the BBC.

It is understood that the review will examine how the identity of complainants can be better protected. It will also examine whether anonymity should also be granted to defendants, as well as the disclosure of evidence and the level of support provided to complainants, victims and witnesses.

The review could also look at restrictions on attendance in the public gallery and potential reporting restrictions.

A spokesperson for the DOJ said: "The Department is currently considering a number of issues relating to how the criminal justice system handles alleged sexual offences and will be making an announcement in due course."

On Tuesday, the Lord Chief Justice's Office also said Sir Declan Morgan had "begun discussions" with trial judge Patricia Smyth and other senior Crown Court judges over how such cases are handled.

Last night, former Justice Minister David Ford welcomed the expected review as "very timely".

Earlier in the day, he had written to the leaders of other political parties asking them to join him in calling for such a review.

"I welcome the news and I will be hoping to hear exactly what is planned," he said. "This is very timely - it's something I had hoped the parties would be asking the Department to do in the next week or two.

"I don't know what is planned, but it could be a fairly wide-ranging examination of the law."

UUP leader Robin Swann called the anticipated review "a sensible decision".

"We will await to see the details of the review but we would hope that its scope is as wide as possible and includes all factors, including the use and abuse of social media," he said.

A DUP spokesperson said the party also backed the review. He stated: "Following the recent high-profile trial a number of concerns had been raised about how such cases are handled. We would welcome a review allowing such issues to be considered properly."

Sinn Fein also welcomed the review. A spokeswoman said: "Rape and sexual assault cases are always going to be traumatic and difficult, but there are additional measures that can be taken.

"These include withholding any publication of the names of the complainant and defendant until the outcome of the case has been decided; clearing of the public gallery; and while the media should be permitted to attend, any reporting on such cases should be barred until the conclusion of the trial."

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