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Ulster Rugby trial: Advocates could help alleged rape victims in the Republic

Justice secretary Charlie Flanagan said the Belfast trial 'resulted in great anxiety across the country'. Picture by Mal McCann

ADVOCATES to assist alleged rape victims are being considered in the Republic as part of a review ordered in the wake of the Ulster Rugby rape trial.

It is expected to be completed by the end of the summer.

Justice secretary Charlie Flanagan told the Irish Independent the Belfast trial "resulted in great anxiety across the country" and more can be done to assist vulnerable witnesses.

Critics of the current rape trial systems in both jurisdictions expressed concerns about how the woman who had made complaints against Ulster Rugby and Ireland players Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding faced cross-examination from four separate legal teams.

Mr Jackson and Mr Olding were acquitted of rape and their co-accused Blane McIlroy (26) was found not guilty of exposure and Rory Harrison (25) was acquitted on perverting the course of justice and withholding information.

Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding were both acquitted. Picture by Alan Lewis, Photopress

Mr Flanagan said calls for complainants in rape trial to be provided with their own legal representative is under consideration, but it is "a challenge" because of the fundamentals of the Republic's common law system.

This sees the state bring cases on behalf of the alleged victim.

The minister said it is not a matter which he expects to be resolved early, but he hopes to have `two forms of proposed measures prepared At the end of the summer'.

"I think there's much more we can do in that regard to assist vulnerable witnesses," he said.

"An advocate, for example, attending court, assisting a vulnerable witness before, during and after (the trial) is important."

He said this would not amount to legal representation.

Mr Flanagan also pledged to appoint more judges in order to address concerns about delays and uncertainty around court cases, as well as rolling out Garda training in sensitive cases relating to sexual offences.

New protection for victims of crime have been introduced in recent days, including a removal of the automatic right of defendants acting as their own legal representatives in rape and other sexual offences cases to directly cross-examine their alleged victim.

A judge will now decide whether to permit it and, where permission is refused, free legal aid will be offered to defendants.

Video links and screens will also be more widely available.

"Our criminal justice system needs to be a warmer place, needs to be a more understanding place and needs to accommodate complainants and indeed vulnerable witnesses in a new way," he said.

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