Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Only reform can give rape victims justice

Editor's Viewpoint

One statistic leaps off the pages of a report by the Criminal Justice Inspection Northern Ireland, which concluded that victims of rape and sexual offences are failed time and time again by the legal system.

The shocking statistic is that, on average, nine cases of rape or sexual offences were reported to police every day in 2016/17. That is a horrendous litany of crime in a relatively small population. What makes it all the more disturbing is that the conviction rate ranged from less than 2% for rapes to less than 10% for other sexual crimes in the same timespan.

The report is scathing in its conclusion: the legal process takes too long and too often ends without an acceptable outcome for complainants.

However, there is some encouraging news. The CJINI report is just one of several initiatives by the criminal justice system to tackle these failings.

Retired High Court judge Sir John Gillen is next week due to reveal his wide-ranging recommendations on streamlining the legal process. He accepts the process from initial report to police to conclusion of trial takes far too long - up to 971 days - leading to many complainants dropping out.

A Ministry of Justice report in England in 2013 concluded that only 15% of rape and sexual offences were reported to police. That situation may have improved in the intervening years, but it still appears that many victims simply do not want to put themselves through the ordeal of going to trial.

It is widely conceded that giving evidence is a traumatic experience for victims where their most intimate secrets are revealed to an open court. Given that the expectation of seeing the perpetrator convicted is far from certain - in most cases it comes down to one person's word against another's - it is little wonder that the process is often shunned.

The Public Prosecution Service (PPS), which is criticised in yesterday's report for the length of time it takes to decide whether or not to prosecute, recently revealed that it has built a dedicated team of senior public prosecutors to ensure best practice in building cases, supporting victims and ensuring prosecutions are brought robustly.

This three-pronged determination by the CJINI, Sir John Gillen and the PPS to tackle the failings in the system is to be welcomed but once again the absence of devolved government could mean urgently needed reforms are not enacted. Too many men will continue to get away with rape.

Belfast Telegraph

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