Ireland

Proposals in Republic to extend anonymity for people accused of sex crimes

The review recommends an update of legislation used to prosecute people for revealing a complainant's identity in the media to also include social media. Picture by Thinkstock/PA
The review recommends an update of legislation used to prosecute people for revealing a complainant's identity in the media to also include social media. Picture by Thinkstock/PA

PEOPLE accused of sex offences in the Republic could be granted lifetime anonymity if not convicted, under proposals contained in a review carried out after the high-profile rugby rape trial.

Barrister Tom O'Malley chaired the review after the 2018 Belfast trial of Ireland internationals Paddy Jackson and Stuart Olding led to demands on both sides of the border for changes to way the judicial systems handle such cases.

Jackson was acquitted of rape and sexual assault while fellow Ulster player Olding was cleared of rape and two other men were also acquitted in connection with the case.

In the south currently only those accused of rape are granted anonymity, but among 50 recommendations is the extension to people accused of sexual assault.

It also calls for an update of legislation used to prosecute people for revealing a complainant's identity in the media to include social media.

If adopted it would see the establishment of preliminary trial hearings "as soon as possible" to deal with legal issues and reduce delays in the judicial system.

The accused's defence team would also have to make it clear at that stage they plan to question a complainant about his or her previous sexual experience.

It recommends that any statutory restriction on this questioning strike a balance between respecting rights to personal privacy and human dignity and ensuring a fair trial for the accused.

The review warns that an outright ban would be unacceptable as it could create the risk of an occasional miscarriage of justice, suggesting instead a formal code of practice to govern the collection and disclosure of a complainant's text messages, social media and internet usage.

The working group also recommends a government-sponsored public education programme on the meaning and importance of consent in sexual relationships and activity and a website with comprehensive information for victims of sexual crime set up and regularly promoted.

It would include information on sexual offences, the trial process, availability of legal advice, counselling, therapy and other help.

In addition, the group recommends training for all gardaí in front line policing on dealing with sexual crime complainants and with other witnesses, including suspects vulnerable because of age or disability.

Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC) chief executive Noeline Blackwell said the reforms would "greatly improve" the process for victims and "is a clear recognition from government that it is not appropriate to treat crimes of sexual violence just like any other crime".

The council of The Bar Of Ireland warned the provision of adequate resources and funding is "critical" to make the changes.

Minister for Justice Helen McEntee said if victims come forward "they will be listened to... heard... treated with respect and dignity, and... supported through what is a very difficult process".

A "clear implementation" plan will be in place in 10 weeks.