Report: More than just legislation required to tackle issues with Irish rape trials
Significant additional resources and a “culture change” are needed to tackle delays in Irish rape trials, a major new report has recommended.
Dr Susan Leahy of the University of Limerick produced the 49-page report, titled The Realities of Rape Trials in Ireland: Perspectives from Practice, in partnership with Dublin Rape Crisis Centre (DRCC).
The report, launched at a virtual event yesterday afternoon, warns that “legislative reform by itself is not enough to achieve change in practice” and must be “supported with further extra-legal and policy initiatives”.
It explores issues such as delay and a broad lack of understanding of sexual consent impacting rape trials, as well as the need to reform areas like legal advice and representation for complainants, the focus on complainant’s other sexual experience, the use of their counselling records and the level of knowledge that juries have on consent in rape trials.
On trial delays, the report accepts that there is “no ‘quick fix’ for this problem and tackling delay effectively will necessitate significant additional resourcing of the system”. It also calls for legislation on preliminary trial hearings, recently approved by the Oireachtas, to be “commenced, and most importantly, supported by adequate resources within the court system, as a matter of priority”.
It adds: “Alongside legislative change, it is also vital that there is a culture change within the system so that any ambivalence or tendency to accept delay is tackled. The professionals involved in these cases must all fully appreciate, and actively seek to avoid, delays and adjournments which worsen the challenges faced by complainants in these cases.
“One means of ensuring this culture shift is to incentivise early engagement and active avoidance of delays. For example, the O’Malley Review has recommended that ‘[l]awyers in private practice representing either the prosecution of the defence should be duly remunerated for their work in preparing for and attending preliminary hearings’.”
The research is based on the experience and views of legal practitioners and court accompaniment workers involved in rape trials and makes evidence-based recommendations for legal, procedural and policy reforms in how trials are run.
Dr Leahy said: “I am very grateful to the legal professionals and court accompaniment workers who gave their time to participate in this project. Their views offer an invaluable insight in to the practical operation of the laws and procedures relating to Irish rape trials.
“Developing our knowledge of how the current law is operating in practice is vital in order to understand whether recent reforms are achieving their intended objectives and to identify outstanding issues which need to be addressed within the system.”
Noeline Blackwell, CEO of DRCC, added: “The report shows that reform of the system is urgent and essential if the rights of all those involved are to be recognised.”
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Dr Leahy presented her findings at an online seminar hosted by DRCC with interventions from Ms Blackwell as well as Katherine McGillicuddy BL and DRCC court accompaniment volunteer Leesha Duffy.