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Sex crime victims could give evidence away from court following review

A report looked at how Northern Ireland’s justice system deals with serious sexual offences.

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The plans aim to help victims of crime (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The plans aim to help victims of crime (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

The plans aim to help victims of crime (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Victims of sexual crime may be able to give evidence without going to court following a review of how Northern Ireland’s justice system deals with serious sexual offences.

The establishment of a new remote evidence centre could see victims giving evidence away from court in an undisclosed location.

The recommendation is part of the Implementation Plan to deliver improvements identified in the Gillen Review.

The Gillen Review, which commenced in May 2018, is an independent review of how courts are set up to deliver justice in serious sexual offence cases in Northern Ireland.

The plan to have victims give evidence away from the courtroom is to reduce the re-traumatisation of complainants and improve their experience by ensuring they do not meet the accused when attending court.

Cases involving sexual crime are some of the most intrusive and difficult for victims to endure.Naomi Long

A number of other priority areas identified in the review include introducing a committal reform Bill designed to remove the use of oral evidence as part of the committal process, and to introduce new arrangements where cases can be transferred to the Crown Court at an earlier stage.

The Department of Justice said the changes will have the greatest impact on complainants and will be implemented over a five-year period.

There are also plans to provide additional support for child victims by providing a child-friendly, inter-disciplinary and multi-agency approach for child victims and witnesses.

Plans are also under way to improve and standardise the quality of recordings and the environment where witnesses provide their evidence during the Achieving Best Evidence (ABE) Interview.

Another priority is to dispel prejudicial rape myths and increase awareness amongst jurors and the public, leading to a “wider cultural and societal change and better justice outcomes”.

The Department of Justice also plans to increase juror awareness about using social media during trials. The Northern Ireland Court Service is to amend juror leaflets and notices in jury rooms in a bid to reduce breaches and contempt of court prosecutions.

The department said there also plans to bring about cultural change in society using education and awareness-raising campaigns, research and training, and provide a publicly funded campaign to promote appreciation of the problems social media creates for the courts.

Justice Minister Naomi Long has welcomed the publication.

She said: “Cases involving sexual crime are some of the most intrusive and difficult for victims to endure.

“We want to do everything in our power to support victims of these crimes through every stage of their journey through the justice system.

“The completion of this Implementation Plan marks an important step towards the delivery of better outcomes in these cases.”

PA