Irish Report recommends anonymity should be granted to all accused of sexual offences

On Thursday the 5th August the Irish Minister for Justice and Equality, Helen McEntee TD published the Review of the Protection of Vulnerable Witnesses in the Investigation and Prosecution of Sexual Offences, which has been chaired by Professor Tom O’Malley BL.

This Review was prompted by significant concerns about the experiences of vulnerable witnesses in criminal proceedings for sexual offences. In particular, there was unease in the wake of a trial in Belfast Crown Court in 2018, which has come to be known as the ‘Belfast rugby rape trial’.

The Review is clear that victims should retain their anonymity in all cases of sexual offences but went on to recommend that this anonymity should also be extended to those accused of sexual assault, who are not currently entitled to it.

As the law in Ireland currently stands, those accused of sexual offences other than rape or aggravated sexual assault can be named after being charged. The Review says there does not appear to be any logical reason why these accused people should be entitled to anonymity in a rape trial but not in a sexual assault trial.

The Review went on to recommend that consideration should also be given to providing anonymity to people charged with other sexual offences including child sexual exploitation offences and offences against people with mental illness and intellectual disability. It recommends the victims in the latter offences should also have anonymity which does not appear to be provided for in current legislation. However, the feeling of the Review was that there is not a strong case to be made for restricting the publication of the names of people charged with what are called child pornography offences.

The Review also recommends that the exclusion of the public from rape trials should be extended to other sexual offences and interestingly recommended that the existing legislation directing sentencing of rape cases to be carried out in public should be repealed as it could lead to identification of the victim.

In publishing the report the Minister also announced that she would develop an implementation plan, working with the NGO sector and stakeholders, and would report back to Government with a detailed plan of action within 10 weeks.

The Minister said “I want to ensure that we can effectively tackle the scourge of sexual violence, which is a blight on our society” and went on to say that “I want to ensure that the victims of sexual violence have the correct supports. That means access to their own independent legal advice or support, if they need it, someone who can be with them and explain the process and advise them throughout the process, not only while the trial is underway as is currently the case.”

The Report published today contains over 50 recommendations, with four overarching recommendations:

  1. promoting better awareness of victims’ rights legislation;
  2. promoting education about the meaning and importance of consent;
  3. improving inter-agency co-operation and exchange of information, especially in relation to services for victims; and
  4. ensuring consistency in service delivery.

The Minister indicated that a number of actions would be immediately prioritised. These include:-

  • Working with the Legal Aid Board to ensure the victims of sexual crime can access the legal advice and support they need.
  • Establishing a single, comprehensive source to inform victims of sexual crime of their rights and of the services available to them.
  • Starting a public awareness campaign around the meaning of consent.
  • Completing the rollout of the Garda Divisional Protective Services Units across the country within two months. This means every division of An Garda Síochána will have a specialised unit for the investigation of sexual violence, human trafficking, child abuse and domestic abuse.
  • Prioritising the drafting of legislation to provide for preliminary hearings to help avoid delay in sexual offences cases.
  • Ensuring the development of the necessary specialist programmes of training for serving members of An Garda Síochána, legal professionals and others who are participating in a professional capacity in sexual offences investigations and trials, including engagement with the newly established Judicial Council about training for judges.

The Minister indicated that the implementation plan, which will be brought to government within 10 weeks, will include timelines for delivery.

Among the issues dealt with in detail in the O’Malley report, and which will be considered as part the implementation plan, are:

  • The investigation and prosecution of sexual offences.
  • The anonymity of victims and defendants, public access to sexual offence trials and media reporting.
  • The trial of sexual offences.
  • Information for victims.
  • Use of intermediaries.
  • Reducing delay in the trial process .

Overall, the recommendations are intended to improve the present system by ensuring, as far as possible, that victims of sexual crime have access to information and advice from the time at which the offence was committed, that they will be kept informed of the progress of investigation, that they will be facilitated in giving their best evidence if called as witnesses and that they will be treated with respect and dignity throughout the process.

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Written by James Chambers at BLM

james.chambers@blmlaw.com

 

 

 

 

 

New guidelines from the Vatican advises reporting sex abuse claims to police

On 16 July, the Vatican released guidelines for bishops and other senior officials setting out clear and detailed rules on how to deal with clerical child sex abuse claims.

The manual (which includes a form to be filled out detailing the alleged crime against the minors involved) does not include any new laws, but has been drawn up at the express request of Pope Francis who called for procedures to be laid out step-by-step to avoid any further confusion in the area.

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Report finds routine physical abuse within sport in Japan

The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has this week published its report into abuse within sport in Japan. The report is titled ‘I was hit so many times I can’t count’ and details the study’s findings: that child athletes in Japan have routinely suffered physical abuse from their coaches. The report comes in the week that would have marked the start of the Tokyo Olympics had it not been for the COVID-19 global pandemic which has delayed the games by one year.

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Interdepartmental working group chair appointment

The Department of Health and The Executive Office set up an interdepartmental Working group to “take forward work on historic Mother and Baby Home/Magdalen Laundries and historical clerical child abuse” in June 2019.  At that time they appointed Mr Peter McBride to the position as independent Chair of the group.  His role was to initially run for a period of one year.

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Renewed focus on USA Gymnastics abuse scandal

‘Athlete A’ is Netflix’s recently released documentary which focuses on the sexual abuse scandal at USA Gymnastics (‘USAG’), perpetrated by Dr Larry Nassar, a former team doctor, under the guise of medical procedures. Nassar was accused of sexually assaulting over 250 women and girls dating back to 1992. The documentary explores the investigation by the Indianapolis Star which culminated in the conviction and sentencing of Nassar in 2018; the response of USAG to reports of sexual abuse; and the culture within USAG which enabled Nassar to continue to commit sexual assaults for a considerable length of time.

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Lambeth Redress Scheme – Update as of April 2020

The Lambeth Children’s Homes Redress Scheme (LRS) was launched on 2 January 2018 and can accept applications up to 1 January 2022.

The LRS provides survivors of physical and/or sexual and/or psychological abuse (whilst resident in a Lambeth Children’s Home) with an alternative dispute mechanism for obtaining compensation without having to go through the Courts.

It covers all Children’s Homes which were run by Lambeth Council and applies to all residents dating back to the 1930s until the Homes were closed in the 1980 and 90s.

Since the LRS opened a total of 1,479 applications have been made.

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Lambeth admits failings and apologies in advance of IICSA Hearings

IICSA yesterday commenced its four week virtual public hearing in the Children in the Care of Lambeth Council investigation.

The first hearings are scheduled to run from the 29 June until the 10 July 2020 and then further hearings will take place from the 10 July to the 31 July, 2020

The IICSA investigation into the extent of any institutional failures to protect children in the care of Lambeth Council from sexual abuse and exploitation was originally announced in November 2015.

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Data breach at NI Commissioner for victims confirmed as “procedural error”

A data breach occurred when a newsletter was sent to a number of people in a circulation list held by the Commissioner’s Office. The names included around 250 people who were victims or survivors of historic abuse.

Following disclosure of the breach an investigation was started to identify the cause.  The Executive Office accepted that the incident had created problems for many victims and an inquiry has confirmed that the cause of the breach was a “procedural error.”

Mr McAllister had indicated he would await the outcome of any investigation and reflect on calls for him to resign in light of those investigations.

It is likely that this situation will ease pressure on him to resign and while some still feel he should leave many other victims and survivors continue to appreciate his work and support.


Written by Fintan Canavan, Partner at BLM

fintan.canavan@blmlaw.com

 

 

 

 

IICSA publishes report into child sexual abuse in sport

IICSA has recently published a Truth Project thematic report that focuses on child sexual abuse within sport. The report follows a detailed, qualitative analysis of victim and survivor experiences of child sexual abuse in sport to identify themes and inform future recommendations.

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