| 10.6°C Belfast

Victims of rape and abuse being failed miserably by Northern Ireland justice system: report

Close

'Inspectors expressed concern that while 823 alleged rapes were reported to police in 2016/17, in that same 12-month period there were only 15 convictions for the crime - less than 2%'

'Inspectors expressed concern that while 823 alleged rapes were reported to police in 2016/17, in that same 12-month period there were only 15 convictions for the crime - less than 2%'

Getty Images/iStockphoto

'Inspectors expressed concern that while 823 alleged rapes were reported to police in 2016/17, in that same 12-month period there were only 15 convictions for the crime - less than 2%'

Northern Ireland's criminal justice system is failing victims of sexual violence and abuse crimes time and time again, inspectors have warned.

Faced with lengthy delays, an intrusive court process and a low chance of securing a conviction, a high number of complainants are choosing to withdraw their evidence rather than proceed with their case, a report from Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland has said.

Inspectors expressed concern that while 823 alleged rapes were reported to police in 2016/17, in that same 12-month period there were only 15 convictions for the crime - less than 2%.

Of the 2,335 other alleged sexual crimes reported that year, a total of 228 defendants were convicted. That's less than 10%.

The conviction rates for rape and sexual offences are the lowest in the UK, CJINI said.

Chief inspector Brendan McGuigan said it was "simply unacceptable" that the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) was sometimes taking more than a year to decide whether to proceed with a charge.

Mr McGuigan, whose report is to be considered by a Stormont all-party group on domestic and sexual violence, said it was now time for a wider societal debate on the issue.

His report comes as retired Appeal Court judge Sir John Gillen leads a review into how the criminal justice system handles sexual crimes.

It follows the high-profile trial in which former Ulster and Ireland rugby players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were acquitted of raping the same woman.

The CJINI inspection has made nine recommendations for improvement, including radical changes to the way serious sexual offences are taken forward by the courts and improvements in the handling of "myths and stereotypes" in such cases.

Head of the PSNI's Public Protection Branch, Detective Chief Superintendent Paula Hilman, said police were "committed to putting victims' needs at the heart of what we do".

The Department of Justice said: "We are working with our criminal justice partners on an action plan to address the points raised in the report."

Chief executive of Victim Support NI Geraldine Hanna said it was "completely unacceptable" that victims of sexual offences are being failed by a system that is "not fit for purpose".

"We understand that the capacity to cope with the volume of cases simply isn't there. However, while we recognise this as a reason, it is not an excuse," she said.

"Delays in processing their cases is often given as a reason as to why victims withdraw from the system.

"As a society, we cannot be seen to be encouraging victims to come forward, and then not be in a position to support them."

Sinn Fein's Linda Dillon said the findings provided stark reading.

"Victims, who may have waited months, years or decades to report the offences against them, should not be let down by the system," she added.

DUP MLA Pam Cameron said the delays faced by many cases is something which must be tackled at the highest level.

"The CJI report has identified very serious issues and put forward recommendations, which must be taken forward as a matter of priority.

"There can be little doubt that this would be greatly assisted by having a Justice Minister back in post to oversee the process."

Belfast Telegraph