44. Deputy Jim O'Callaghan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the status of the review into the conduct of rape trials announced by him in June 2018; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [49599/18]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): In the first instance, I wish to state that it is vitally important that victims of sexual assault feel able to report the matter to An Garda Siochana. And it is equally important that complainants in sexual assault cases are spared any unnecessary distress in the investigation and prosecution of such cases.
As the Deputy has noted, a review of protections for vulnerable witnesses in the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences is currently underway. The review will examine the entire legal process around sexual offences, from the initial reporting of an offence through to the end of any court proceedings. The review is particularly concerned with the treatment of complainants and vulnerable witnesses throughout this process.
Terms of Reference for the review have been published. The review will examine the adequacy of the mechanisms available in law and practice to protect vulnerable witnesses in the investigation and prosecution of sexual offences, including access to specialist training for An Garda Síochána, members of the judiciary and legal professionals dealing with sexual offences; practical supports for vulnerable witnesses; provision of additional legal supports to witnesses during the court processes; measures in place to protect vulnerable witnesses during evidence; and restrictions on public attendance at, and media reporting on, trials of sexual offences.
Mr. Tom O’ Malley BL., Senior Lecturer in Law at NUI Galway and member of the Law Reform Commission, has been appointed to chair the working group carrying out the review. He is joined by representatives of the Garda Síochána, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Probation Service, the Courts Service and my own Department.
The working group will have regard to research published in this area, submissions from victims organisations and individuals and will carry out consultations with relevant stakeholders.
In this context, I would like to point out that the impetus for this review arose from a round of consultations with NGOs that I undertook in April. I met with NGOs including the Rape Crisis Network Ireland, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, One in Four and the National Women’s Council of Ireland in April. Their submissions - and in particular a recently published report by the Rape Crisis Network of Ireland entitled “Hearing Every Voice – Towards a New Strategy on Vulnerable Witnesses in Legal Proceedings” – influenced the terms of reference of the Working Group which has been asked to pay close attention to their recommendations. I’d like to thank the NGOs for their very valuable input into this process.
It is expected that the review group will provide a final report to me in early 2019. While the outcome of the review cannot be pre-empted, I very much look forward to its recommendations, which will be very carefully considered.