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Alarm over rape case conviction levels

While the complexities involved in rape investigations have been well documented, there can only be enormous concern over the minuscule number of convictions delivered under our present structures.

Alarm has regularly been expressed in the Republic of Ireland about the most recent available statistics which indicate a conviction rate of 8 per cent for the jurisdiction. However, a report released yesterday confirmed that in 2016/17 the percentage for Scotland was 3.6, for England and Wales 3.3 and for Northern Ireland just 1.8pc.

Given that the number of sexual offences reported to police has been rising steadily and has almost trebled over the last two decades, these can only be regarded as highly disturbing findings.

The chief inspector of criminal justice, Brendan McGuigan, was fully entitled to conclude yesterday that the existing approach is unduly protracted and expensive as well as resulting in “all too often, a failure to deliver an acceptable outcome for victims”.

The report made nine recommendations for reform, with sweeping changes proposed for the way in which serious sexual cases are processed by the courts.

It is essential that these measures are given urgent consideration, with particular reference to what the report described as the “myths and stereotypes” which can be encountered. These would include any suggestion in court that the way an alleged victim was dressed, or the fact that they were drunk, may signal consent.

The separate review of the handling of serious sex cases by the criminal justice system being undertaken by the retired High Court judge Sir John Gillen, which is due to be delivered in the new year, also has an important contribution to make.

Although every individual facing prosecution must receive a scrupulously fair trial, with evidence considered strictly on its merits, the conviction rate in sex cases sends out a stark message.

The authorities must demonstrate that a victim who has the courage to come forward with a complaint will be treated with sympathy, respect and absolute fairness at all stages of the criminal justice system

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