A review of how rape and sexual offences trials are handled must mark the first step in the significant reform that is required within the justice system here, Sinn Féin Foyle MLA Raymond McCartney has said.
The Sinn Fein Justice spokesperson was commenting after a preliminary report made more than 200 recommendations for change. The review, being conducted by a retired judge, will now seek public responses through a consultation process running until January 15.
Raymond McCartney commented: “We very much welcome the preliminary report and hope that it will mark the first major step in the significant reform that is clearly needed in terms of how rape and sexual violence cases are handled and prosecuted.
“There are very serious concerns as to how these cases involving rape are dealt with, particularly around the invasive and combative cross-examination of witnesses, the impact of media coverage of such cases and the way some in society view women.
“Rape and sexual assault cases are always going to be traumatic and difficult but there are additional measures that can be taken such as clearing of the public gallery and barring any reporting on such cases until the conclusion of the trial.
“We also support the call from Women’s Aid and NEXUS for funding to provide and develop a professional, rape crisis service for the north to support victims of rape and sexual assault.
“Sinn Féin will study all of the recommendations in the interim report in detail before responding to the consultation. We would encourage all other stakeholders to do so as well.”